Monday, January 27, 2014

A User's Guide to "Forty Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World," Volume III

In which Michael5000 continues his testy commentary on that ubiquitous internet atlas of our times, Forty Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World.

A User's Guide to "Forty Maps that Will Help You Make Sense of the World," Volume III

Note: In cutting and pasting the images (at low resolution and for purposes of critique in a non-commercial forum, yo!) I included "Twisted Sifter's" own attribution.  They aren't live links here, so to see the original you would have to go to the original post and click through from there.

11. "The World's Busiest Air Travel Routes of 2012"

Technical Merit: Indifferent.  I like the big green  irrelevant Antarctica.

Artistic Merit: None attempted.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": It may help one make sense of the aviation industry to realize that there is a lot of air traffic on routes where very large cities are kind of close to each other.  This is especially so where surface transportation is kind of tricky for one reason or another, as on an island county like Japan.

I am not sure if we are expected to be surprised that there is so much aviation action in East Asia.  If we aren't, I'm not sure why anyone other than a transportation junky like myself would find the map interesting (I do!  ...but I bet you don't!).  If we are, it seems like a rather oblique way to make a point made much more forcibly on Map #12.

12. "Visualizing Global Population Density"

Technical Merit: Call me old-fashioned, but I think that a good way of visualizing global population density is looking at a map of global population density.  They are are not hard to find!  Here's a crude but perfectly serviceable one right here:

You could spend a good half-hour noticing interesting stuff on this second map, while the first map tells you only one interesting thing.

Artistic Merit: There is something awfully smug about this map.  "There are more people living inside this circle then there are living outside it," it says.  "I knew that, and you didn't," it says.  "If you were a better person, you wouldn't be so damn ignorant about the peoples of Asia," it says.  "You really should have been paying more attention in school, assuming your teachers weren't trying to hide this information from you," it says. 

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": I actually think understanding the global pattern of population, including but certainly not limited to the crude summary of the first map, is about the biggest step a person can make towards making sense of the world.

13. "Flag Map of the World"

Technical Merit: Qua map, none.

Artistic Merit: The Italian artist Alighiero Boetti made, or had made to his specifications, more than 100 flag map tapestries during the 1970s and 1980s.  They are well-known.  You can see them at MOMA: here's a link.  Since I'm mildly interested in flags and quite interested in maps, people reasonably expect me to swoon over them, but in truth they don't do much for me.  Did "andrewfahmy on Reddit" think he was doing something original?  If so, he must have been kind of dismayed after all that mouse-work to find out that he's just the poor man's Aligheiro Boetti.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": No.

14. "Map of Alcohol Consumption Around the World"

Technical Merit: One of the first things they teach you in map-making class is, if you're going to represent a quantitative sequence of data, you need to have your shading go in some sort of visually logical sequence.  In this case, for instance, a good choice would have been from white through light blues through dark blues to indigo.  The scheme used here, on the other hand, stinks: it's almost impossible for the brain to process olive green as "least" and then walk up through light blue, gold, and grey/brown, light purple, and dark purple.  You can glean data from this map, but it's a hell of a lot of work.  A competent cartographer would make it easy for you to grasp the global pattern at a glance.

Artistic Merit: None.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": I hope it does not come as too much of a surprise that Muslims are not, by and large, heavy drinkers.

15. "Map of Alcoholic Drink Popularity by Country"

Technical Merit: Now this is the proper use of a random hodge-podge of color on a map: to signify non-quantitative data.  It doesn't matter that the colors don't look or feel greater or less than each other, because the categories they represent are not greater or less than each other.

The categories of "beer," "wine," "spirits," "not much at all really," and "other" leave a little to be desired.  Since people in most countries drink a mix of beer, wine, and spirits, picking out the #1 choice as representative of the country as a whole seems a bit weak.  It is not very interesting to know that Brazil is a beer country, for instance, when the drinking choices could be 35% beer, 33% wine, and 32% spirits, or 100% beer.  Just beer.  And then, what of this "other" category?  Here too, what the map doesn't bother to tell us seems a lot more interesting than the banal information it does bother to tell us.

Artistic Merit: None.

Helps One "Make Sense of the World": Our list has two maps about alcohol on it, because alcohol is amusing, and it's funny when people drink!  It's beer o'clock somewhere!

Next Time Out: Maps 11 - 15


Rebel said...

I like this return to cartography! I agree with your arguments about the importance of displaying quantitative data in a logical way. Some people just don't get it!

As for map 12 - I agree as well, the second map is far more nuanced and rich with information. For example (having been one of the people living - however briefly- inside the circle) there's a very sad splash of low-population-density cream/pink hovering in the vicinity of Cambodia. The 'in the circle' / 'out of the circle' map completely skips over details like that.

Rebel said...

And looking closer at that map - the lightness fairly well outlines Laos as well.

Michael5000 said...

I hadn't thought of that, Reb, but you're right. THE CIRCLE also includes the Tibetan Plateau and a good chunk of the Gobi, both of which have very few people indeed. I guess "this circle" has more of a punch than "this irregular polygon, though."

lamanyana said...

I was wondering about the "Not Applicable" category on the alcohol maps. The only way I could think of for a country to not fit any of t6he other categories would be to not have any population over the age of 15.

Looking more closely at the original maps, it looks like it's actually used for disputed territory, but couldn't they have just said that, then?

Michael5000 said...

Yeah, a world "choropleth map" -- one where data is represented by area shading -- is almost always going to run into trouble in places like Western Sahara, where there's no critical consensus on what constitutes a country and who is supposed to be keeping the books on alcohol consumption. Usually, those areas are just greyed over without comment. Greying them over, and then calling that grey the "not applicable" data class seems like the worst of both worlds -- especially when there is a slightly different grey available for "data not available," which is a truer condition for those places.

Additional bad thing about this actually very bad map: the visual distinction between "wine" and "not applicable" is way too slender, considering how much spectrum was available. And, a thoughtful cartographer probably ought to have made "<0.1 litres" the visually lightest shade, to hint at lessness.

And for that matter, HOW COME BEER COUNTRIES ARE GIVEN A COLOR THAT COULD REASONABLY BE NAMED "WINE"?!?! I was way too easy on Map 15.

lamanyana said...

I would certainly expect better from the World Health Organization.