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Histograms can be very helpful in understanding the data. Properly presented, they can be a quick visual way to present probabilities of different categories by the simple visual of comparing relative areas in each category. Here the error, purposeful or not, is to vary the width of the categories. This of course makes comparison to the other categories impossible. It does embellish the importance of the category with the expanded width because it has a greater area, inappropriately, and thus visually "says" that that category has a higher probability of occurrence.
Time series graphs perhaps are the most abused. A plot of some variable across time should never be presented on axes that change part way across the page either in the vertical or horizontal dimension. Perhaps the time frame is changed from years to months. Perhaps this is to save space or because monthly data was not available for early years. In either case this confounds the presentation and destroys any value of the graph. If this is not done to purposefully confuse the reader, then it certainly is either lazy or sloppy work.
Changing the units of measurement of the axis can smooth out a drop or accentuate one. If you want to show large changes, then measure the variable in small units, penny rather than thousands of dollars. And of course to continue the fraud, be sure that the axis does not begin at zero, zero. If it begins at zero, zero, then it becomes apparent that the axis has been manipulated.
Perhaps you have a client that is concerned with the volatility of the portfolio you manage. An easy way to present the data is to use long time periods on the time series graph. Use months or better, quarters rather than daily or weekly data. If that doesn't get the volatility down then spread the time axis relative to the rate of return or portfolio valuation axis. If you want to show "quick" dramatic growth, then shrink the time axis. Any positive growth will show visually "high" growth rates. Do note that if the growth is negative then this trick will show the portfolio is collapsing at a dramatic rate.
Again, the goal of descriptive statistics is to convey meaningful visuals that tell the story of the data. Purposeful manipulation is fraud and unethical at the worst, but even at its best, making these type of errors will lead to confusion on the part of the analysis.
Burbary, Ken. Facebook Demographics Revisited – 2001 Statistics, 2011. Available online at http://www.kenburbary.com/2011/03/facebook-demographics-revisited-2011-statistics-2/ (accessed August 21, 2013).
“9th Annual AP Report to the Nation.” CollegeBoard, 2013. Available online at http://apreport.collegeboard.org/goals-and-findings/promoting-equity (accessed September 13, 2013).
“Overweight and Obesity: Adult Obesity Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available online at http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html (accessed September 13, 2013).
Data on annual homicides in Detroit, 1961–73, from Gunst&Mason’s book ‘Regression Analysis and its Application’, Marcel Dekker
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