There’s been a fair bit of talk about infographics over the last while since they do appear to be gaining popularity, going mainstream, and becoming a significant method for readers (or viewers in this case) to quickly grasp the key points of an argument.
Because of such popularity, it is important to acknowledge the downfalls of the infographic as well. David McCandless gave a great Ted Talk on data visualization (that was screened at TedXLibrarian): David McCandless: The beauty of data visualization. In it he points out how scale and reference points are key to truly grasping all the information that is being shown.
Recently the Torontoist also had an article that discussed the problem with infographics. In this case the Toronto City budget was shown in pie graphs, a couple of the charts side by side yet one measuring in billions the other in millions. Our Toronto‘s Graphics skew city budget info (Torontoist, July 6).
In a few of the workshops I’ve given to classes the last couple of semesters, I have asked students to look up and view an infographic and then answer a couple of questions. In this case I used a database we subscribe to called Opposing Viewpoints in Context and the topic I have the students search is childhood obesity. The database has a map of the U.S. that shows rates of obesity for select years both by rate and number. Students have to know that they can’t just rely on the colour of the state to find out which one had the highest obesity rate in 2008; they have to hover over the state to read the exact percentage (FYI it’s Virginia with 19%). Sometimes it’s just good to clue them in that information does come in all sorts of formats and media, and that when they think about research they don’t have to think just in terms of books!