Wednesday, November 10, 2010

ASA's magazine: Excel's default charts

Being in Bhutan this year, I have requested the American Statistical Association (ASA) and INFORMS to mail the magazines that come with my membership to Bhutan. Although I can access the magazines online, I greatly enjoy receiving the issues by mail (even if a month late) and leafing through them leisurely. Not to mention the ability to share them with local colleagues who are seeing these magazines for the first time!

Now to the data-analytic reason for my post: The main article in the August 2010 issue of AMSTAT News (the ASA's magazine) on Fellow Award: Revisited (Again) presented an "update to previous articles about counts of fellow nominees and awardees." The article comprised of many tables and line charts. While charts are a great way to present a data-based story, the charts in this article were of low quality (see image below). Apparently, the authors used Excel 2003's defaults, which have poor graphic qualities and too much chart-junk: a dark grey background, horizontal gridlines, line color not very suitable for black-white printing (such as the print issue), a redundant combination of line color and marker shape, and redundant decimals on several of the plot y-axis labels.

As the flagship magazine of the ASA, I hope that the editors will scrutinize the graphics and data visualizations used in the articles, and perhaps offer authors access to a powerful data visualization software such as TIBCO Spotfire, Tableau, or SAS JMP. Major newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post now produce high-quality visualizations. Statistics magazines mustn't fall behind!

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