Don’t Believe The Infographics
Information graphics: they inform, they enlighten, they lie.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: October 3rd, 2012
The worst infographics are the ones present bold-faced lies as undisputable facts
ou can’t go on any social network these days without seeing at least one infographic. They’ve started to become as ubiquitous as lolcats, and they’re especially rampant during this election season. Many of them are quite nicely designed and some are very informative, but more than a few contain information that is just plain false.
Many of the politically-biased infographics use numbers and statistics to prove their points, and while it’s easy to cherry-pick numbers to show the desired result, those infographics aren’t particularly insidious, especially since they’re bound to be ignored by anyone who doesn’t already agree with their conclusions.
No, the worst infographics are the ones present bold-faced lies as undisputable facts. Sometimes the lies are mixed in among numerous real facts, but in almost every case, the lies are completely unnecessary, since they’re often used to make a point that can easily be made honestly.
Take, for instance, the infographic about margarine. It contains several very shocking bits of information about the popular butter substitute. It says that margarine was first developed to fatten turkeys, but that it killed too many turkeys so the manufacturer found a new use for it. It then goes on to claim that margarine is only one molecule different than plastic. Of course, none of those things are true. But post it on Facebook and you’ll find that many people will be shocked, but very few will question it.
Not surprisingly, many of the more blatantly false infographics come from conspiracy theorists. Popular radio host Alex Jones, known for believing any conspiracy theory no matter how absurd, propagates many false infographics through his website infowars.com.
The above infographic, about the dangers of the artificial sweetener aspartame, makes several claims, including that it causes seizures, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis and that it is produced by feeding fossil fuel oil to e coli bacteria that are genetically modified to excrete aspartame.
The first statement is patently false. No studies have been able to demonstrate any negative health effects of aspartame. This doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means that no studies have been able to show a link between aspartame and any disease.
The second statement contains a near-truth, but it’s couched in a ridiculous lie. The amino acid needed to manufacture aspartame is produced using bacterial cultures, but e coli is not one of the cultures used. And of course, you can’t “feed” bacterium, nor can they “excrete.”
Of course, the conspiracy minded will dismiss such facts as corporate or government propaganda, but that only invites the question, if you can’t trust science or corporations, or government, why can you trust an anonymous “fact” found on the internet?
The better infographics will include citations, so that you can check the sources of the facts being presented, but most infographics simply assume you’ll believe the messages they contain.
But the best rule of thumb to follow is, if you see it on the internet and you don't know where it came from, assume it isn’t true.