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The Worst Almanac Entry on Record

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The Worst Almanac Entry on Record

Good graphs like this one make their point clearly and emphatically, but without exaggerating the underlying numbers. They also are sometimes kind of dull to look at, at least compared to their flashy, misleading brethren. (From the U.S. Global Change Research Program)

Climate Central is one of the best sources on the web for up-to-date information on climate science presented in an accessible way. True to form, a recent piece laying out the details on 2012’s status as Warmest Year on Record is almost uniformly excellent. Particularly fun is the interactive figure at the top in which you can click any state to see a time series of annual temperatures, and even zoom in on any part of the graph for more detail.
But, as pointed out by the Monkey Cage, the Climate Central piece does contain one completely unnecessary, and generally awful, graph:

It’s not even clear that any graphic at all is needed to convey the simple fact that 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental U.S., and about 1oF warmer than the next hottest, 1998 and 2006. It’s not so bad that the years are out of order, and only somewhat misleading (but common, and necessary to some degree to avoid huge graphs with tiny print) that the scale on the y-axis is constricted such that small differences look huge. But the thing that really brings it all together is the silly 3-D effect that causes the horizontal lines to fan out from left to right, such that by the right edge of the graph (where 2012 conveniently lies), 1.5 degrees of warming over the 1921 average translates into a bar three times the size!
In a touch of (surely intentional) irony, the headline of the Monkey Cage piece is similarly terrible, suggesting this might be the “Worst Graph on Record.” It may be bad, but it’s not even in the same league as what comes out of climate-denial organizations. (Though perhaps we should be encouraged that 120% of the public has an opinion about anything climate-related. How they came about those totals explained here.)