National Numeracy Network > NNN Blog > Outlays of Distortion

Outlays of Distortion

Nathan Grawe
published Feb 24, 2014

When you do your taxes, take a look toward the end of the 1040 instructions. Apparently the US government is collecting a little extra from Microsoft in exchange for promoting Excel's "fancy," tilted, 3-D pie chart. The tilt in this case appears to be laying the pie on an incline no greater than 15 degrees. Take a look:


I've never seen such a beautiful shot of the side of a pie chart before. While the pair of charts purportedly provide information about the distribution of income and outlays, the tilt is so distortionary that it is impossible to distinguish the 24% of the budget spent on National Defense from the 38% spent on Social Security, Medicare, and other retirement programs. That's a 50% difference obliterated by what Tufte terms "chart junk." Alternatively, there is no way you'd guess from looking that we spend almost the same on Social Programs as on National Defense.

While one could argue that little harm is done because no one really reads this page of the 1040 instructions, I'd still rather that my procrastination be rewarded with cleaner graphics.

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