Eurostat, or the art of factoid growing

It saddens me to know that 23-year old Belgium girls are incapable of abstract reasoning, something that everyone in other parts of the world take for granted by the age of 12. That’s why we should praise Eurostat for its dumb-down, infographic-oriented approach to data dissemination. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you may want to take a look at the Eurostat presentation at NTTS2015.

Seriously, I see this all the time: respected organizations that don’t know what to do with their data once they recognize they must go beyond tables. Often they go the easy way: offloading responsibility to a graphics agency and combining ignorances (design ignorance and data ignorance) to get catastrophic results.

When, years ago, I wrote this open letter to Eurostat director, I wasn’t expecting much, because I know how slow-moving statistical offices are. More recently, I wrote a post with new examples of bad charts in Eurostat publications. I was unable to find examples as bad as the ones in the first post, so when I saw a data visualization session in a pure statistics conference, I believed that something was moving. And by inviting Alberto Cairo they meant business. Alberto’s talk was great, received more than formal applause, and was quoted in other presentations.

For the Eurostat presentation, I was expecting a few simple but significant steps into the right directions: avoiding alphabetic sorting, removing comparison between pie charts, all those basic rules you can find in an entry-level datavis book. Perhaps they could say they were planning to write a style book to avoid past mistakes. And perhaps a few social or economic or green dashboards. No. I came to Brussels and all I got was these lousy factoids targeted at what they think teenagers are.

Eurostat: this is wrong.It is wrong not because you are incompetent (you aren’t) to perform your core tasks but because you are venturing out of your comfort zone and are asking for help from the wrong people. I don’t have to tell you who the right people are, because you know and actually invite them to your conferences. I simply ask you to get a second opinion. Please.