Saturday, July 13, 2019

Nonsensical diagrams

I have a soft spot for nonsensical diagrams. I don't cover them in-depth in How Charts Lie, but I have a small collection in my computer that I return to when I'm in need of a good laugh. This one is from Sebastian Gorka's PhD dissertation:


Here's my favorite from the Gorka subfolder; I'm no expert in geopolitics, but I'm quite certain that the “mechanics of terrorism” are more complicated than this:


Some of Gorka's visualizations are puzzlingly minimalistic, making me wonder whether they are necessary at all. See this beauty:


Gorka writes about this one that it's “frighteningly complex” and that it defies “many conventional wisdoms.” It does indeed!


This is the structure of Al Qaeda; I wonder whether a PhD dissertation shouldn't be a tiny bit more specific:


It's easy to make fun of Gorka, who is just a boor and a grifter, but nonsensical diagrams also appear in best-selling books. In 2016 Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi launched a contest to ‘Make the Most Meaningless Thomas Friedman Graph’, which has its own Twitter hashtag, #FriedmanGraphs (don't miss it). Taibbi was spoofing Friedman's book Thank You for Being Late, which showcases graphics like this:


My favorite from Taibbi's contest isn't the winner, but this one:


Self-help guru Jordan Peterson is famous for his YouTube lectures and his doorstop 12 Rules for Life. I suspect many of his fans haven't read his previous Maps of Meaning. The diagrams in it were described on my Twitter feed as Dungeons&Dragons campaign maps:



(FYI: I try to design far better maps when I play Dungeons&Dragons).

Nathan J. Robinson called Peterson's graphics “masterpieces of unprovable gibberish”. He has a point:



Some of Peterson's diagrams are pretty heavy metal:


Footnote: A while ago I made fun of Peterson's diagrams and one of his fans replied that it was unfair to critique them without reading them in context. I agree, but it turns out that I did read Maps of Meaning, and can understand its philosophical references. This doesn't make the diagrams better, but even funnier.