Lie With Maps

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In class we used a Google Fusion Table to combine a map of Hartford and its surrounding neighborhoods with data on the demographics of each Connecticut town. We then adjusted the map’s settings to color each town depending on what percentage of the town’s population is a minority. Depending on the limits and scale used, we discovered we could change the map to either portray a racially divided Connecticut or a racially diverse one. Even though both maps contain the same information, they represent this information in different ways, and thus it is easy to see how to lie with maps.

Map 1 shows the racially divided Connecticut. Knowing that the towns on the outer limit of the Hartford area had a small percent of minorities in the population, I changed the range of the lightest color to “0.0 up to 0.5,” so that towns with a population of less than 50% minority were a light yellow color. Not surprisingly, many towns were painted yellow by this wide range. I then increase by 10% for each color up to 80% and assigned the darkest color (a dark red) the range of 80-100% percent, which applied to the three middle towns. The map shows a sharp racial contrast because of the wide range of low percentages combined with the narrow range of middle percentages and a slightly wider range of higher percentages, allowing for an unfair amount of towns to be painted light yellow, and allowing for the middle towns to sharply contrast with the dark red.


This is a map showing sharp racial divisions.

Map 1: A map of Hartford and its surrounding neighborhoods showing sharp racial divisions.


Map 2 tells a very different story. Instead of starting the lightest yellow color with a large range, I made all the ranges for each color equal in size, so that there is a uniform difference between the range of percentages for each color. The result is a less biased map, and a map that shows greater racial diversity in and around the Hartford area.


A map showing racial diversity.

Map 2: A map of Hartford and its surrounding neighborhoods showing racial diversity.