Mapping Power

An Economist article discusses how simple maps have become one of the most powerful tools that interest groups use to promote their causes. The Grim Reaper’s Roadmap, for instance, maps out mortality rates in Britain from different causes in hopes of sparking investigations., by mapping instances of violence in Kenya, wants to hold the government accountable. And MAPlight maps political donations to show how money influences congressional votes. [%comments]

thomas meixner

But maps can be easily manipulated to tell the story you want- just like statistics. The difference is people subconsciously are more likely to believe a map since it seems truthy.

Bob Stephens

On the Sky & Telescope website is an example of how to alter the viewer's impression by changing the color, intensity and brightness of the colors assigned to a map:

A map is as subject to manipulation as any set of data.


Can I point to the importance of maps for human rights measurement? See here for an example:

Human rights measurement is still an underdeveloped field of research. Most work on human rights is based on fact finding and is highly anecdotal. Statistical analysis in this field is still very difficult. Mapping, using ordinal scales as a way compare countries (or regions within countries), is a promising avenue.

science minded

I like the idea of mapping- sort of reminds me of a lesson that I learned from a psychologist friend by the name of Alfred Jones that human beings are "organizing principles." (Goldstein, 2009) and that I learned from another by the name of Max Weber-- that in science "ideas have to be correct in order to accomplish anything worthwhile." Goldstein, 1991. Seems like the difference between a visual map and an intellectual one is not so great after all. I have always found that when I am near the end of resesarch/writing project, I begin to develop a written road map of my argument. Keeps me on track and the path obvious.


There's a danger in maps due to randomness: If you have random events, there will be "clusters" of the event. Unfortunately, interest groups draw their grids to enclose exactly those clusters. "Cancer clusters" are a prime example of this - the disease's occurrence is random yet by manipulating the grid, you find clusters. Figures lie.... Thomas is right - maps have an undeniable truthiness while the data they are meant to represent, not so much.

science minded

Dear Nosybear,

The specifics of the diseases occurrence is random-- but I have reason to think that in general terms, it is not i.e., as in all possible interconnections of things. You might keep this in mind.

Johnny E

Like any other representation of data maps need to be analyzed. They could give insight into what is really happening.

Like the people who think the Population Bomb isn't a problem because there's so much available acreage per person. But if you subtract oceans, deserts, mountains, and ice fields the amount of fertile habitable land goes way down.

Mapping economic activity is probably useless without seeing the availability of cheap water transport via protected harbors, canals, access to oceans, and navigable rivers.

science minded


I have been mapping the market activity of one bailed out bank for a few months and the price of one of its stocks has been hovering plus or minus 2 around one number. This does suggest to me a bit of stability, no great gain, but no great loss either.This also seems consistent with what such help was intended to accomplish--