Oh No, FAO


I admire your work immensely, and respect your mission and commitment. I applaud your lovely FAOSTAT service, and you can clearly do nice, informative graphs.

So, how did you let this infographic slip through the net? (original here)

It starts OK, but gets bad pretty quickly. Since when does 870 million people get to look like 0 people?

The second graph is better, but still hides any population changes by only dealing in relative numbers.

And surely the graphs in the third section could just show us the data, rather than returning to the large-number-looks-like-zero shtick? And are the timescales the same?

Not sure what the last section means.

A shame, as this is such an important subject. This infographic could easily be fixed by showing the actual data, and using either a zero baseline, or a proportion change for the graphs.

And please do check out the FAO, they do good work.

Thanks to Gill for pointing me to this one.


  1. I guess it come down to activists don’t trust public, politicians with accurate presentation of data

    And feel the need to shock, manipulate or pull marketing tricks, ie timescales etc.

    Presumably to try to get public to care
    Some never will care, some just become cynical about ngo marketing

    And it turns into nobody trusting anybodies figures.

    1st graphic ok. Don’ t like the colour schema though.

    1. I’m sorry you feel like that Barry, it feels to me like an overly cynical view. I think that this is much more likely to be a case of a lack of care or knowledge than a deliberate attempt to decieve people. In the post, I’ve pointed to places where the FAO produce excellent, clear graphs.

      I think that you are using the label “activists” to dismiss the FAO here – I don’t think it is appropriate, for a number of reasons. I also think that there is no shame in being called an “activist”, if one of your primary aims is to reduce hunger.

      You can find out about what the FAO is at this link.


  2. “Since when does 870 million people get to look like 0 people?”
    Perhaps FAO have been taking their cue from climate science.

    Since when does 2 million square km of ice get to look like no ice?


    1. I agree with you on this one Paul, especially seeing as the bottom of the scale is really close to zero anyway. Perhaps we should write to the NSIDC?

  3. Or this one from the IPCC AR4 SPM.
    Since when does 30 million square km of snow get to look like no snow?


    1. Not sure this one is so clear cut – the graph is primarily about the anomaly, and needs to focus on the data range. It isn’t trying to make the point “we might lose all the snow”, and so the absolute minimum becomes less important. I think it *is* important to show enough data that you would get an idea of the natural variability.

      I might include an inset, for getting an idea of the scale of the changes compared to absolute, mind.

    2. The FAO have a solid wedge that has its entire base at a single level whereas the IPCC graphic has ‘free-floating’ points. The visual implication of the FAO wedges it that hunger’s diminishing to zero or shooting up from zero.

      I’m not sure what the solution is: a simple arrow perhaps?

  4. Yes, of course it depends on how close the bottom of the scale is to zero. But FAO could use the same argument – they are plotting the ‘anomaly’.
    I think some sceptics have tried to raise the issue with NSIDC (don’t recall where, maybe WUWT).

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