Randall Bolten Blog

April 03, 2017
For my annual April Fool’s Day post, we revisit some of the past year’s most useless and inane numbers presentations. This year we celebrate an infographic about marijuana use in the U.S. in the recent past. This graph is this year’s winner because it is not only shockingly incompetent, but appeared on the website of a news outlet – CBS News – that really should know better.

February 22, 2017
Hans Rosling, age 68, died earlier this month. He contributed more than almost anyone to helping people truly understand the world as it is. In an era when we have gone overboard for the glitziest data visualization techniques – frequently at the expense of comprehensibility or of any meaning whatsoever – Rosling’s presentations are informative but still imaginative and entertaining. His work demonstrates the potential that data visualization can have, but all too often doesn’t – we’ll see one of his best examples here.

February 08, 2017
My last blog looked at how U.S. federal government outlays were distributed in 2015 – one of the few situations I’ve found where a pie chart actually works! But taking a deeper look at the issue, and especially considering federal spending trends over time, we’ll see that pie charts are severely limited. We need a better presentation approach, and in the process we’ll come face-to-face with the limitations of data visualization.

January 30, 2017
You know how much I hate pie charts – in my book, "Painting with Numbers," using a pie chart is Deadly Sin #10. But occasionally – very occasionally – a pie chart tells an important story. Current federal government spending is such an example – let’s learn something about federal spending AND get some insight into the ugly, the bad, and the good of data visualization.

January 18, 2017
I don’t usually make policy statements in this blog, but sometimes a simple and clear presentation of data says everything that needs to be said. The trend in U.S. manufacturing jobs over the last 70+ years is a great example.

January 09, 2017
For New Year’s reading I commend “What Kind of ‘Jobs President’ Has Obama Been – In 8 Charts,” from the NPR website. The eight graphs referred to are straightforward and easy to understand. They show critical data in a journalistically ethical way – a characteristic in very short supply these days. With one exception that’s all too common in data visualization today…

December 19, 2016
Strapped for a gift idea for a bright, inquisitive high-school student, a college student with career aspirations, or a young professional in finance & accounting, engineering, or any of the many other disciplines where presenting numbers is a critical success skill? Well, I have a suggestion!

November 09, 2016
A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of blogs about using data visualization to appreciate the fickleness of the U.S. electorate. A group of tables and graphs examined the ups & downs in the numbers of Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives since 1952, compared to the political party of the incumbent president. Well, I’ve updated the graph for the 2016 election, and extended the analysis back to 1920. Read on and enjoy!

October 31, 2016
I know it’s not April Fool’s Day, when I usually write about inept data presentation, but Halloween is a reasonable second choice for this sort of thing. A graph appeared today in a Seeking Alpha blog about Gilead Sciences Inc. (GILD) that wins my black pumpkin award! HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

October 25, 2016
At this time of year, many of us face choices about health insurance plans for the upcoming year. Depressingly large premium increases have been typical, and 2017 will be no exception. BUT WAIT – there may be a HIDDEN premium increase as well.

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