Monday 14 April 2014

Changing Face of America. Bravo!

No one wants to see bad maps...or maybe they do, because they keep those that can make good maps in business and they give educators some great material. Without cartocrap, what would we have to keep us entertained? How would we be able to discern good from bad? What would I have to write about? OK - that's maybe a question too far.

So today social media was lit up like almost never before at the sheer horror of the following effort from NBC Nightly News. Go on, drink it up, then rub your eyes and take another look.

What were they thinking? It's an area graph...showing three different time periods but they've gone and clipped the rectangular graph using the shape of the US to create what I am sure they thought of as an uber-information graphic.

Clipping to a shape destroys the visual impression of relative areas across the chart since we have no baseline or simple geometry to anchor our understanding of the pattern. Without reapportioning the areas of the graph to the new shape it leaves some of the categories completely dissected and reduced in area relative to the rest. That's those at the top if you were wondering.

We can't even make any sensible vertical interpretations because that wretched coastline gets in the way. But worse...has the space-time continuum gone awry? Do we progressively travel back in time if we go east to west? Argh...but the east coast is in the future and the present is roughly down the Mississippi. Great Scott!!!! Perhaps Emmet Brown threw the original graph in a flux capacitor and this is what was churned out the other end. Or given the rainbow colours, maybe Marty McFly threw in some ideas?

Back to what the graph shows...OK, it's on a map, so it's a fair assumption that we're seeing a spatial relationship because it's on a all the white population live below a very specific curvy line - they get a lot of the west coast and southern states but poor souls are banished from the north east.  There's a few thin strips across the rest of the northern latitudes for asian, hispanic and black populations but seriously, I was under the impression that segregation ended decades ago. There's a small promontory for 'other' (whoever they are)? and it looks like Alaska and the Hawaiian islands have undergone some sort of ethnic cleansing. Hilariously, if Alaska and Hawaii had been positioned elsewhere they may have had a completely different ethnic composition.

Overlay this detailed map with a weather map and we could probably infer that 90% of the white population will experience a sunny day and the rest won't (thanks to Craig Williams for that observation). But not in Colorado... the 100% white population will likely find it colder on the front range in 2010. Another way to look at this map is that California, Oregon and Washington only existed in the 1960s and have been progressively been replaced over time with the eastern states. I guess for some that might be closer to reality than the map intended to suggest.

Really, it's almost impossible to stop finding fault - it's a piece of cartojunk of the very, very highest order and will be used for years to come as one of the most purile, ill-conceived pieces of cartographic arse-gravy that anyone ever invented. Bravo!