Deceptive data visualisations

As part of my final project I’ll be using CartoDB to make a map of the movements of a family throughout time and space. So, doing some due diligence, I thought I would read a bit about data visualizations. I came across a paper, “How Deceptive are Deceptive Visualizations?”, and thought I would take a look to see what they found.

They start off the article by explaining how useful visualizations can be, but how with the wrong selection of colours, scaling etc., the data can be misinterpreted.

In a way this questions reminds me of the pictures you can find that show 2 images, such as this one below (which I talked about in an older blog post about an art exhibit I saw.)


“All is Vanity” Charles Allan GIlbert 1892

To see just how deceptive bad visualizations can be, the authors (in connected with an NYU lab class) tested a series of well-known graphical distortions on participants. Below are some examples:

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For the study half of the participants received a deceptive chart, and the other a controlled one. Each were asked the same questions, which were essentially to measure the difference between the two (exp: How much better are the drinking water conditions in Willowtown as compared to Silvatown?) What the tests showed was the the deceptive chart led to more participants answering the questions with a larger/bigger estimate.

So, how can I transfer over some of these ideas into my own final project. It made me think about the options that will be available to me when I create my map. I know that CartoDB features different visualization options, include to change the shapes of makers, make it animated, and change the basemap. Below are some screenshots of the map options.

While absolutely none of the data has changed in any of these maps, at first glance they do appear to be very different.

Variety can be a great thing, but evidently if we don’t think about how the data will be used and who will be using it, we can run into some problems.


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