Activity: Diseases, Deaths & Donations

Developed by QR Fellow Rachel Perlin

Learning Objectives: Students will be able to critically analyze a graph, explain how this graph (and many others) can be misleading, and develop suggestions of how the graph could be more accurately portrayed.

AACU Quantitative Literacy learning outcomes addressed in activity: Interpretation, Communication

Background: The first infographic (see below) went viral on the internet in September 2014, around the time the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge was gaining wide popularity. Andrew Gelman (a statistics professor at Columbia)’s blog had a post about the infographic, saying it was one of the worst infographics ever, but people don’t care, written by Phil Price (an author on the blog) – source is at bottom of page.

This activity can be used as a whole-class activity or you could choose to break the class into groups of 2-4 (whatever works for you and your class!). This activity can also be modified as you please to better accommodate your students.

**GRAPHS are at the end of this document.**


  1. Write down 1 “issue”/piece of criticism you have with these graphs. [You could choose to show both graphs first, or just the color infographic first].
  2. Write down 1 thing that you agree with in the message you believe this graph is relaying.
  3. Everyone will go around and discuss what they wrote down. You could have a representative speak from each group, or call on volunteers from the entire class.
  4. Does the infographic show bias in any way? What could we presume about the creator’s intentions/viewpoints on the subject? [You could then show the website where the infographic was published from (link is above) and ask what students think about the argument they make about the celebrity viral sensation fo the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge from 2014].
  5. What other resources/pieces of information would we want to include with these graphics? Or how could you improve the graphic?
  6. Do you think infographics like this are common? Have you seen other graphs/visuals on the internet or in the newspaper that don’t seem accurate/can be misleading to the public?

[Could show this website to students about how to spot misleading (or “bs”) graphs:]

Suggested Solutions/Discussion:

  1. Possible issues people could say:
    1. doesn’t take into account all sources of funding
    2. only uses sources from last year or so
    3. doesn’t note on evolution of research and how far some research on particular diseases have come (e.g. cancer)
    4. why just because one disease is rare doesn’t mean we should fund it less (e.g. ALS has no cure or treatments, except one pill that slows progression by 2-6 months; disease is always fatal, whereas cancer there is a chance for survival, as well as heart disease)
    5. the graph isn’t the easiest to read (not reader-friendly)
    6. not color-blind friendly
    7. circles are not proportional to the amount donated/# of deaths.
    8. Only donations to single organizations are shown
  2. Responses may vary.
  3. Class discussion.
  4. Vox was trying to argue that people shouldn’t donate to diseases just because they are “popular” but by where the donations will make the most impact. They were particularly discussing how the ALS ice bucket challenge drew in so much money because of the celebrity factor of it.
  5. Could be improved by fixing the size of the circles (make area proportional, not the diameters) to donations/deaths; both columns are aligned by disease not by largest to smallest in donations/deaths so you are less reliant on the color legend; make a scatterplot instead; include funding from other sources;

Note/Additions if students have computer access:

If this were in a computer lab – students could research how these diseases are funded; as well as what diseases should be added to the graphs that weren’t included. Or for homework they could do this. Then as a class discuss how it could be revised.

Sources/Further Reading:

Source for infographic and where it was originally published


Word – Diseases, Deaths and Donations

PPT – Diseases, Deaths and Donations