Posted by: Jane Davidson & Patricia Rogers
What’s not to love about the great ideas for data visualization that have taken evaluation by storm over the past few years? Awesome!
Perhaps not the most visually stunning example, but here’s Google Analytics’ map of where Genuine Evaluation’s 28,470 visits came from last year (2013). Just a few more countries to hit before we have the whole planet covered!
In today’s post, we explore how one particular representation of a reality we all live on (literally!) has distorted the way we view the world for hundreds of years. Yes, really!
But first, a Pop Quiz!
You may find the above map useful as a reference for this little exercise.
Visualize the answers before scrolling down …
- How big is Alaska compared to the contiguous US states (“the mainland”)?
- How big is Africa compared with (a) the United States? (b) China? (c) India? (d) the biggest countries in Western Europe?
- How big is Australia compared with (a) the United States? (b) the UK? (c) Germany? (d) Greenland?
- How big is New Zealand compared with (a) the United States? (b) Germany?
Do you have pictures of these in your mind’s eye? Good! Read on …
A reality check
Way back when we kicked off the Genuine Evaluation blog, we promised to bring you an international view of evaluation from a distinctly Southern Hemisphere perspective. In that spirit, see if any of these reality checks surprise you. And take a look back at the Google map above to see how that differs from reality.
[There’s been considerable discussion of this image of Africa and some suggested alternatives in the Economist]
Why this really does matter
How does perception of size distort our thinking and even influence international policy? This one will make you think …
Check out this short video clip from US TV series The West Wing … [if you are on the email feed, access the post on the Genuine Evaluation site to watch this.]
Just as we need to think hard about how the words we use to frame evaluation findings can either distort or illuminate the underlying realities, so too do we have to think about the same thing when it comes to dataviz and basically any way we represent reality.
What other examples can you think of for “Reality Representation Epic Fails”? Nominate one in the Comments section of this post (on the Genuine Evaluation site)!