Defending Pie Charts

Bobby Johnson makes a valiant effort at defending the indefensible:

In the world of data analysis, there are few things more reviled than the pie chart. Among “serious” data people, it is at best trivial and naive, and at worst downright evil.

I do not agree with this. The pie chart is simple, but that is its beauty. It does exactly one thing and it does it well: it shows you how much different parts contribute to a whole. This isn’t the only question you ever have about your data, but when it’s the question you do have, the pie chart is perfect. That is not evil and it is not naive. It is data visualization doing what it should: taking something large and abstract and saying something simple about it that your brain can easily internalize.

I strongly disagree with arguments in the article, but do respect the attempt.  In each of the cases, at least one of a bar chart, stacked 100% bar chart, or dot plot could give at least the same amount of information with less lower mental overhead.

Related Posts

Bar Chart Presentation Options

Andy Kirk gives us five techniques for gussying up bar charts: “Bar charts are boring”, say many people. “How can we make them more attractive”, say many desperate clients. Bar charts are ubiquitous because they are the reliable and trusted lieutenants often relied upon to show the always-common quantitative comparisons across different categories. Their frequent […]

Read More

Chart Confusion with Labels

Mike Cisneros shows us an example where unexpected label values can throw off your readers: The internet immediately latched onto the seemingly absurd collection of months portrayed in this chart. The bill, dating from June of 2019, included 13 prior months of usage from as early as August of 2016, as recently as March of […]

Read More


March 2018
« Feb Apr »