Logodaedalic Gregory

T. Ryan Gregory is turning into quite the coiner of useful terms. The latest: Dog’s Ass Plots. It refers specifically to charts that try to make a case for the evolution of complexity by selectively encoding their creator’s assumptions about the topic, and especially by oversimplifying the data in a way that skews their interpretation.

I suspect DAPs are a problem in other fields as well, though.


  1. Watt de Fawke says

    We had some supervisor’s pet once give our section a talk about the workplace where she saw a ‘continuum’ composed of three categories: 1. respect, 2. disrespect, 3. sexual harrassment.

    We (all 20 or so of us) tried to explain to her that it would make sense to include sexual harrassment as a subset of disrepect, and no sense to make it a separate category, but she refused to accept that.

    We also failed to see an underlying continuum and pleaded with her to name the thing that was continuous, but she never accepted that it needed a name, insisting there was a continuum there and we were disrespecting her for arguing with her.

    Now I see we should have said, “Continuous, yeah, in a dog’s ass.”

  2. MartinM says

    …insisting there was a continuum there and we were disrespecting her for arguing with her.

    Thus moving that much closer to sexually harassing her. Apparently.

  3. Stwriley says

    Well PZ, we don’t use plots much in history since there’s less in the way of data that’s amenable to that kind of treatment (DAP or not.) Tables are much more the historian’s way of distorting and simplifying data, but occasionally even my profession ventures into the realm of the DAP as shown by this little lovely on world population percentages by continent between 1750 and 2005. Like the graph that inspired Ryan to coin this phrase, it seems to present a clear progression of population change, when it is, in fact, riddled with assumptions and dubious data.

    First, it makes the assumption that we can actually determine the percentages of world population by continent in 1750, which we cannot, because hard data simply does not exist for this for most of the Americas, Africa, Australia (lumped in here with the rest of the Pacific and possibly the Indonesian archipelago as “Oceania”), and even significant parts of Europe and Asia. Then there is the deceptively smooth curve of all the lines that ignores important population events that don’t fit their conveniently compressed time scale, like the disastrous effects of the 1918-19 flu pandemic. With casualties in the 20 to 40 million range, this is hardly an insignificant event, yet it produces not so much as a bump on this graph. I could go on, but I’m sure you all get the point.

    Just as any profession can lie with statistics (thank you, Mark Twain) so they can lie with graphs. You’d think that historians, with our stress on complexity of factors and the contingent nature of history would be immune to this, but alas, we are not. The DAP is alive and well, only to be defeated by the laughter of those of us who are not fooled.