Goff and Howard Public Relations / Public Affairs Logo

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Afghan troop surge meets Pentagon chartjunk

Edward Tufte coined the term chartjunk in his 1983 classic, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, to describe elements which “make the graphic appear more scientific and precise” than the data needs or allows. In government, chartjunk is regularly used by bureaucratic elites to justify their unique grasp of a perilous situation. But so often, it is also a graphic confession of confusion or bad thinking.

Take this recent example:

Afghan society is often characterized as a tangled web of tribal, religious, ethnic, economic, and other alliances. The U.S. Department of Defense visualizes the Obama troop surge in that difficult land as a similar tangle of programs, initiatives, and “stakeholders.”

Perhaps Alexander the Great, the Persians, the British Raj, and the Soviet army didn’t have enough flowcharts.