Let’s use a gender related example:
In the United States, the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the U.S. Department of Labor collects data about the U.S. workforce including questions relating to gender. In 2003, they offered the following chart regarding women’s salaries. Seeing this chart, I might have easily been encouraged to study pharmacy or law.
But in this chart from 2009, we would quickly realize that maybe law wasn’t such a great choice for me after all. Law appears to be one of the worst professions for women if what you care about is equal pay.
As data professionals, we need to remember that it is easy to find data to support just about any point of view. For example, rather than focusing on women’s issues, this chart published in 2012 could easily be titled “Men are severely underrepresented in careers requiring people skills.” Instead of focusing on women’s issues, I might be encouraged to investigate potential concerns about the upbringing of boys in our society.
The story we tell with data is just as important - if not more important - as the data itself.
By AnonMoos [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Women’s earnings in professional specialty occupations on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2003/oct/wk4/art03.htm (visited May 27, 2016).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Women and men in management, professional, and related occupations, 2008 on the Internet athttp://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2009/ted_20090807.htm (visited May 27, 2016).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Women as a percent of total employed in selected occupations, 2011 on the Internet athttp://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2012/ted_20120501.htm (visited May 27, 2016).