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Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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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.

Explanation

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

Microsoft Paint was first introduced in 1985, and Microsoft PowerPoint debuted in 1990. As easy-to-use tools, these allowed for the easy creation of graphs by novice computer users. The comic implies that these are responsible for decreasing the overall quality of graphs, presumably by enabling a large number of inexperienced designers, and facilitating certain kinds of poor designs over those that are better for communicating scientific results.

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 is more than a little self-deprecating, as the comic itself features exactly that sort of lambasted graph. The axis labeled "good" and "bad" is entirely qualitative, the years axis manages to use numbers and still be vague by labeling the area between the ticks as decade eras instead of labeling the ticks, the definition of what constitutes the 'PowerPoint / MSPaint era' is entirely unclear, and it is doubtful that any actual data was used to make the graph - certainly there are no actual data points indicated. Its quality is doubtful, and it might represent more of an impression, or opinion, than an actual fact.

Transcript

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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