The Rise of the Y-Axis-Zero Fundamentalists

31 Dec

This issue came up in a class I taught this Fall. The text book we used condemned the use of broken axis graphs. However, one of my students made a convincing case that, under some circumstances, you might be more interested in the fluctuations highlighted by the broken axis graphs, and, thus, justified in using them.

By Justin Fox

On Friday, I read a Natalie Kitroeff story on the declining appeal of law school, and was so struck by this chart that I shared it on Twitter:

law schools

The chart tells a dramatic story: all the gains in law school enrollment since the mid-1970s have been wiped out in just three years. Twitter responded to that drama with lots of retweets and favorites — but also with lots of disapproving remarks like this:

And this:

There were many, many more responses like that. A couple of them wielded the name of Edward Tufte, today’s leading authority on the visual presentation of data. Which is interesting, because after about five seconds of Googling I found

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One Response to “The Rise of the Y-Axis-Zero Fundamentalists”


  1. Broken y-axis controversy | prior probability - January 1, 2015

    […] more about this little statistical dust-up here. Addendum (Dec. 31st): Here is another take on this […]

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