Saturday, July 3, 2010

I Love Good Data Visualization. This Isn't It.

Earlier this week Newsweek ran a story titled, "Classrooms or Prison Cells?" Given some of the more recent education coverage from Newsweek I wouldn't have been very surprised if the article came down in favor of prisons.

Thankfully, the article was generally informative and unbiased, and told the story of California's 30-year rise in corrections costs amidst education budget cuts. According to the article, in 1980 California spent 10% of its budget on higher education and 3% on prisons. Now, almost 11% goes to prisons while higher education spending has dropped to 7.5%. If you thought that was a tragedy, check out the graph that accompanied the article:

(Image Source: http://www.newsweek.com/content/newsweek/2010/06/28/classrooms-or-prison-cells/_jcr_content/body/inlineimage.img.png/1277695326254.png)

Do you get the feeling that somebody in the Newsweek graphics department got this assignment at 4:45pm on a Friday afternoon? I would have loved to see the graph try to predict future spending. Given the assumption that these rates are truly linear, you can predict that by the end of this century California will be spending 35% of its budget on prisons and not a single dime on higher education.