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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Revision as of 22:26, 9 January 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! We already have 5 comic explanations!

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Scientific Paper Graph Quality
The worst are graphs with qualitative, vaguely-labeled axes and very little actual data.
Title text: The worst are graphs with qualitative, vaguely-labeled axes and very little actual data.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a PowerPoint. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

Microsoft Paint was first introduced in 1985, and Microsoft PowerPoint debuted in 1990, allowing for the easy creation of graphs by computer users. The comic suggests that these easy-to-use tools are responsible for decreasing the overall quality of graphs, presumably by enabling a large number of inexperienced designers.

Critics of PowerPoint, such as Edward Tufte, have argued that the software is ill-suited for reporting scientific analyses. Many scientific journals nowadays explicitly forbid the use of PowerPoint in their instructions for authors.

The title text states that among the bad quality graphs, the ones "with qualitative, vaguely-labeled axes and very little actual data" are the worst. While this may indicate that the problem with PowerPoint era graphs is that they seem to focus on getting the point across (qualitative as in "you get the idea") over accuracy (little actual data), this graph fits precisely into this category. The axis labeled "good" and "bad" is entirely qualitative, and it is doubtful that any actual data was used to make the graph. Its quality is doubtful, and it might represent more of an impression, or opinion, than an actual fact. This is somewhat self-deprecating, as the comic features exactly that sort of lambasted graph.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
General quality of charts and
graphs in scientific papers
[A graph is shown with the y-axis on the origo labeled "bad", on the arrowhead labeled "good", and the x-axis being a timeline labeled with decades from 1950s to 2010s.]
[The pre-1993 and post-2015 parts are white, with increasing quality before 1990 and after 2015. The 1993-2015 part indicates bad quality and is highlighted in grey, labeled "PowerPoint/MSPaint era".]

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