Home > Uncategorized > Maps…read between the grids.

Maps…read between the grids.

Of the three maps that we were shown in class on Wednesday, one of them particularly interested me: the political affiliation map. The reason it interested me so much is because it reinforced a thought that I’ve had for years: statistics are what you make them. Looking at this map, there is just one phrase that comes to mind: appearances can be deceiving.

I had always realized that when looking at political affiliation maps such as this one that population sizes have a considerable and essential role in interpreting the real meaning of these maps. However it is not until you see the map distorted (or undistorted, rather) that you realize how much this information can be lost in translation. This map, for instance, shows by color coding which states had a majority vote democratic and which voted mostly republican. It seems that republicans took the cake according to the first map. But take a look at this one that takes population size into account when generating this map. By shrinking the size of lower population states, it shows that the democrats clearly took the lead on this one. There are a few more maps like this on this site as well.

So what does this teach us? Well, the most obvious thing it shows is that the republican voting midwest, while appearing larger on a normal map, do have a much lower population that democratic coastal states, something that is not demonstrated in the first map but clearly shown the second time around.

But the next lesson, which I think is the most important, has to do with how maps are used in not just journalism, but in all forms of communications, be it marketing, campaigning, etc. For instance, if a republican group wanted to falsely convince a potential voter that the majority of people voted republican last year, they would show you the first map that does not reflect population size rather than the “true” map.

Now I’m not saying that the creator of this map meant to be malicious, but it brings up an important issue about not just maps like this, but statistics in general. The lesson is that what you see is not always what you get; more so, when looking at a map such as this (which can be so deceiving), one must always double check the facts. In addition, there are a number of questions one must ask themselves when a group presents information in a form such as a map like this: Who is this group? What are they trying to say? What are their goals? Do they have a reason to alter the facts? And if they do, make sure you take nothing for granted, whether it be a map like this, graphs, charts, etc.

I believe that maps such as these are a great way to convey information and has an indispensable role  in the world of communications; we should be grateful that we can have statistics like these readily available to us. However, it is up to the reader to always be aware of the cold hard facts to avoid being duped by the stats.

Speaking of maps, Google has a new little map project that they are currently working on.

Categories: Uncategorized
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  1. April 2, 2010 at 5:17 pm

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