We all know how found of pie charts Tufte is:

A table is nearly always better than a dumb pie chart; the only worse design than a pie chart is several of them, for then the viewer is asked to compare quantities located in spatial disarray both within and between charts (…). Given their low density and failure to order numbers along a visual dimension, pie charts should never be used.(The Visual Display…)

Stephen Few shares the same feeling:

(…) allow me to declare with no further delay that I don’t use pie charts, and I strongly recommend that you abandon them as well.(Show me the numbers)

Of all the graphs that play major roles in the lexicon of quantitative communication, however, the pie chart is by far the least effective. Its colorful voice is often heard, but rarely understood. It mumbles when it talks. (Save pies for dessert)

They have some followers, like this one or this one. On the other hand, Stephen Kosslyn discusses the results of several scientific studies to conclude that:

Clearly, we need to temper Edward Tufte’s (1983) assertion (based solely on his intuition, as far as I can tell) that ‘the only worse design than a pie chart is several of them’ (p. 178). In some situations, this opinion is no doubt justified, but we should not make such a sweeping generalization about the value of any type of display, independent of the type of data to be displayed and the purposes to which the display will be put.(here)

Of course, Kosslyn is the author of Elements of Graph Design, “a book confirming that psychology is for graphics like ornithology is for the birds” (Tufte dixit). Do I sense some sarcasm?

You will also find things like this, that could be seen as the typical graphic designer approach:

Are you still using the traditional 2D graph for your reports and presentations? (…) create 3D Pie Charts with Illustrator CS2 at ease. The Pie Charts looks so real and professional. (here, emphasis mine)

Ian Spence writes a more conciliatory approach:

In my opinion, much of the adverse criticism of the pie has come from those who have wished it to do more than it could. The pie chart is a simple information graphic whose principal purpose is to show the relationship of a part to the whole. It is, by and large, the wrong choice as an exploratory device, and it is certainly not the correct choice when the graph maker or graph reader has a complicated purpose in mind.(here)

[Update: you must simplify your data to use a “simple information graphic”, and sometimes a simplified view is exactly what you need, according to Seth Godin. I agree with him, but there is much more to say about this.]

Now, let me rewrite this paragraph in light of my previous posts:

In my opinion, much of the adverse criticism of Crystal Xcelsius has come from those who have wished it to do more than it could. Crystal Xcelsius is a simple charting tool. It is, by and large, the wrong choice as an exploratory device, and it is certainly not the correct choice when the graph maker or graph reader has a complicated purpose in mind.

I would say that this is a classical divide between emotion and reason, a divide as old as can be. On one side we have pie charts, Xcelsius and many graphic designers. On the other, we have the scatter plot, Tufte, Excel. Don’t elude yourself, this discussion will never end. We could use some emotional intelligence, though.