Okay, so maybe the accurate interpretation of this graph in Wednesday’s Herald Sun is straightforward to Mr Bolt’s audience, but I must confess it leaves me a little confused:


Right, well, there are grid lines. There’s an apparently big number in complete isolation and with no context. There’s a date. There’s a line which squiggles a bit and then LURCHES DRAMATICALLY UPWARDS – almost vertically, according to whichever scale of what I assume is time is being used for the “x” axis and whatever number of people are represented by each mark on the “y” axis.

Perhaps I’m just not as “with it” as the target audience, but I can’t quite make out the detail of what this graph is actually revealing. It looks like it’s saying that after June 2008, over an unspecified period of time, the number of people detained by the Rudd government multiplied by what looks like roughly ten times. Only I can’t see what the earlier figure was, and I can’t see what the end date is. Without which, I can’t help but feel, unjustly I’m sure, that somebody’s cynically trying to lead me around by the nose. My only reassurance that that couldn’t be the case is my unwavering confidence in the trustworthiness and honesty of News Ltd and its fine journalists.

But it’s all very mysterious. Would somebody mind helping me get to the level of Mr Bolt’s readers, who could apparently absorb this graph and its undoubtedly entirely reliable imputations so much more easily than I can?

UPDATE: Whether or not the published graph is similar to a small and carefully-selected section of a presumably correct departmental graph is not really my issue here: it’s that readers should have the relevant information put in front of them. If there’s a graph, if should have the axes and scales clearly labelled. If you’re going to contrast a figure with an earlier time, then give the damned earlier figure!

I don’t think there’s anything healthy about training readers to accept these things on trust; on implication and innuendo.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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