We all know that we can lie using infographics. This can be achieved in a variety of ways including choosing to include only data that is favourable to your argument, omitting relevant data and presenting data in a way that can be interpreted differently to what it truly represents. The internet is full of such examples.
But if we can lie using infographics, the mathematical consequence of this statement is that we can also tell the truth using infographics!
Here is an example
Pit Bull attacks are reported by the press with some degree of regularity. In most cases the reports describe Pit Bulls, especially the American Pit Bull Terrier, as a highly aggressive breed of dog, if not the most aggressive dog breed. A quick search on the internet will reveal several news articles affirming that the Pit Bull is the most aggressive breed. Such statements have been repeated so much that it is widely believed to be correct, regardless of whether it is true or not.
Which dog’s breeds are really more aggressive?
Such statements are not indicative of reality. The American Pit Bull Terrier is not the first breed in the “aggression ranking”. It’s not the second – not even the third. Can you guess what the most aggressive dog breed is? It is the Dachshund. You may be understandably surprised and confused but the explanation is quite simple if we can correctly define what aggression actually is. The Oxford dictionary defines aggression as a “feeling of anger or antipathy resulting in hostile or violent behaviour; readiness to attack or confront”. If you consider all the Dachshunds or the Chihuahuas you’ve met, you may recall that they barked at you and showed very hostile behaviour. But we tend to see these attacks funny and even cute, because what harm, if any, can a Chihuahua do to you? Perhaps a small wound on the tip of your little finger? Certainly nothing more serious than that. Because of their small size, we simply don’t worry about a Dachshund or a Chihuahua barking and as a consequence we normally fail to understand that these small breeds are by far the most aggressive dog breeds.
Strength VS aggression
The obvious difference between a Dachshund and a Pit Bull is their size and the strength of their bites. A Dachshund’s bite offers little or no harm. On the other hand, a Pit Bull’s bite can be very serious or even lethal. Just like the bite from the most loved breed, the Labrador: when a Lab decides to bite (and sometimes they do), significant damage can be done. That being said, it turns out that a Pit Bull is, on average, significantly less aggressive than a Dachshund, but a lot more dangerous than a Dachshund if it decides to bite you.
Here is an infographic closer to the truth
So, the widely accepted concept that Pit Bulls or Rottweilers are the most aggressive dogs is simply wrong. I hope I managed to convey this to you in the previous paragraphs but we all know that a visual aid can help us to better understand the concept. Can a visualisation help us to tell the truth about Pit Bulls? The following is one attempt to do so:
Note that the danger ranking is a result of combining aggressiveness with size. Maybe using size is not the best option (Dobermans are bigger and more aggressive than Pit Bulls, but are responsible to fewer deaths): If we had used strength of the bite instead of size, the chart possibly would be even more truthful. What’s more, it would be more truthful still had I corrected the danger ranking according to the frequency of each breed, which I didn’t (a given breed can be low on the statistics of fatal attacks simply because that breed is rare).
Misleading visualisations or deceptive infographics can attract more clicks and can be appealing. It is, however, important to understand any bias used. Use visualisation to tell the truth, or, if impossible, create a narrative that reflects the truth as closely as possible. People will realize you are providing accurate information and will associate you with being a reliable source of information.