The creation of maps, just like the creation of other data visualizations, involves distorting reality and telling “white lies”. Mark Monmonier, in his book How to Lie with Maps, discusses the misuse of maps, the appropriate use of maps and the nature of maps. Our assigned reading includes Chapter 3, which explains the various techniques used and choices made when cartographers are creating a map, particularly because these become the “white lies” the maps tell.
The first essential part of creating a map is the selection of features for the map. However, equally as important are the features that the cartographers chooses not to include on the map. In the area you want to map, there could be multiple points and areas that could be included. Due to spatial limitations, only one of these areas may be included. After this, there are four important generalization operations – simplification, displacement, smoothing and enhancement. These are the steps taken by the cartographer to simplify the map and make it a usable visualization, depending on the purpose of the map.
So what is the “white lie”? “White lie” is a result of generalization, a combination of what’s included and what’s not. According to the reading, “a good map with ‘white lies’ suppresses truth to help the user see what needs to be seen”. One most common usage of map is for directions and geographic relations from place to place. On a road trip, the driver cares most about the overview to the destination; the overview of the cities to pass by thus forms the “white lie”, which tells the driver not to focus on the detailed road map of any city on the way. The ability to adjust the scale of brevity and succinctness according to user’s need is what makes maps such fit visualizations of geographic data. However, maps can be used to generate “white lies” on more than just geography, but also potentially any data based on geography. In figure 3.10 and 3.11 from the reading, Monmonier demonstrates how the same data on the same area can yield different-looking choropleth maps with different sets of class breaks. In the pictures, color choices and the area remain the same, but the class breaks for each color are different; while all four maps provide sufficient information as the legends are clearly labeled, it is very misleading to the audience at first glimpse because the color distributions look different. After all, the four maps tell the same information but our eyes tend to convince us not. The manipulation using color to deceive our eyes is considered a “white lie”, which in this case is for political propaganda. Impressions change with perspectives, which is a common trick of manipulation in data visualization.
We found 3 different cartographic representations of Davidson College, all of which display the correct layout of buildings, but also include the “white lies” discussed in the Monmonier reading.
This first map is a map taken from Google Maps. It shows the main roads and only one building on the Davidson College campus. This map chooses to use different widths to demonstrate the business of the roads–the streets on campus are much smaller because there is less traffic. This map would be helpful for someone looking to approach the campus, but not for someone who wants to walk around campus or someone looking for a particular building on campus.
This map gives a much more detailed representation of campus. It makes the choice to include a key rather than label the buildings individually. In fact, this is one of the materials included in the packet given out to the Freshmen class in the beginning of the school year to learn the campus. This would not be a good map for anyone coming from off campus, since the roads outside of campus are not labelled well or included.
This map is not drawn to scale and does not include any sidewalks or street names. This would be good for someone who is trying to get a general sense of the layout of buildings on campus. It is visually appealing to get an overview of the important buildings but it is not an accurate visualization.
All three maps above show the various mapping techniques in place. While they are all valid maps, some may be more appealing for different purposes than others. Does a universally good map exist? Are there some selection techniques that would be best in this case? How would you illustrate and map Davidson College?