Funny TV Graphics

Today, June 22 2009 on Good Morning America Dianne Sawyer interviewed 3 people on President Obama’s health team (one of them Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius). When they got to the issue of cost Dianne pointed to a recent study that revealed the original projected cost of medicare over 25 years would be $12 billion while the actual cost for medicare is estimated to be $107 billion. As she stated this statistic the graphic below was shown.

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If you’re a regular reader of this blog you can probably imagine what comes next.

$107 billion is nearly 9 times larger than $12 billion. The pile of pills on the right is no where near 9 times the size of the pile of pills on the left.

Let’s detour for a bit. If you’re the least bit interested in communicating graphically you should listen to directors commentaries on DVDs. Sometimes even better is to listen to critics commentaries on DVDs (critics commentaries are available for older classical movies). It soon becomes clear that directors have full control over the content of each shot in a movie. They control the lighting, shadows, color, furniture placement, what’s visible outside windows, etc. Next time you watch a movie think about that. Nothing you’re seeing is done by accident. Even if the scene looks like an outdoor shot it has been staged, arranged and orchestrated to be precisely what the director desires.

Such is the case with the graphic shown above. On TV it was an animation lasting about 12 seconds. The pills dropped from above, first in the $12 billion pile then in the $107 billion pile. At first glance it looks like mostly green pills with a few red and yellow ones thrown in. But on closer inspection the green pills have dollar signs on them. Someone made the decision to use dollar signs. The background looks like the White House, someone made the decision to use that backdrop. In front of the house are red and white bars, either reminiscent of a cross walk but with red thrown in or perhaps reminiscent of the US flag. Someone made the decision to add a red and white street. On the curb of this street there are little stars, further supporting the case for the street to be reminiscent of a flag. Again, someone made this decision too. The point is this graphic was not casually thrown together, it was planned.

Why that planning didn’t extend to show the $107 billion as 9 times larger than the $12 billion is a mystery. I suspect its because most of the people behind the scenes are intimidated by all things math. And this just barely qualifies as math as there are *only* numbers involved. Here’s a headline “ABC News Tricks Public, States Health Care is 300% Less Expensive.”

Below is the same image more appropriately scaled.

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