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I’m Not Familiar with Your Level

June 7, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, & Bar Graphs

Ukraine’s President Yanukovych was caught up in a data visualization gaffe in front of a panel of economic experts. The chart he is holding reflects annual wages in Ukraine for the past six years. Notice the red bar is substantially lower than the prior years?

It’s true salaries for Ukranians fell this past year, but not as much as Yanukovych indicated. An economics professor on the panel chided Yanukovych for not starting the y-axis at zero. As a result, the slight fall in wages looks disproportionally large and overstates the fall. Click the image above for a link to the video or see the translation below.

Yanukovych: This chart shows that the real wages…from 2004…you can see it here…grew 123%…123.8%…and in five years we received 89.7…that means that within five years, for that period of time we now have minus…we have minus…I pass it to you, please have a look…

Professor (panelist): Viktor , I am under heavy impression of your charts, that were most likely prepared by your consultants…but I am surprised how much the consultants might let down (“frame”) their leader, because even if the numbers are correct, this column (red) should be somewhere around here, so the elementary proportion of scale was not used correctly…so it looks beautiful on the chart…the same is true about the price growth for sugar…the proportions are not right…it may look fine on paper, but the numbers in the chart do not correspond the chart itself…

Yanukovych: Unfortunately, we have not met…right…I am not familiar with your level…

Professor: I am a professor…just like you…you are a professor, I am a professor… (applauds)

Yanukovych: Too bed…too bad…I feel shame for you…you are a professor and you don’t know that the real wages dropped this year, first time in 18 years…here (on chart) if you looked attentively…here the increase is shown…yes, increase beginning with 26%…and it was the increase in wages all these years…real wages…and here it drops…89, in red…the drop in real wages, 11% drop…that is why we can talk here as much as we want, but if you ask people—and I ask people daily, I travel to various areas of Ukraine—people have hard times surviving in such conditions, and the answer to this question is the only one: we need to change the situation in Ukraine…

Of course, the professor wasn’t denying wages fell, just didn’t fall that much.

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