In his forthcoming book, Albert-László Barabási writes, “There is a theorem in publishing that each graph halves a book’s audience.” If only someone had told me this two years ago!
More seriously, this tongue-in-cheek theorem, if true, defines an upsetting paradox. As we discussed at the beginning of the Notes section of Red State, Blue State, we structured the book around graphs because that seemed to be the best way to communicate our findings. Tables are not a serious way of conveying numerical information on the scale that we’re interested in, and, sure, we could’ve done it all in words (even saying things like “We ran a regression and it was statistically significant”), but we felt that this would not fully involve readers in our reasoning. The paradox–or maybe it’s not such a paradox at all–is that graphs are grabby, they engage the reader, but this makes reading the book a slower, more intense, and more difficult endeavor.
I recall hearing about the lack of appeal of equations, and their negative impact on book sales, but not graphs. Then again, I remember that the author of Calculated Exuberance was a bit perplexed when I enthused about his chart & graph heavy posts.
Here’s a chart from from a paper in Current Biology, The Evolution of Human Genetic and Phenotypic Variation in Africa:
All that information in prose would take up more time, and be way less precise.