18 October 2007

Un-Austria, and some thoughts on population density

Strange Maps brings us a map of Un-Austria, originally due to Babak Fakhamzadeh. The purpose of this map is to illustrate certain statistics about the Austrian people by associating those groups of people with parts of a map; seven percent of Austrians are "not proud of their nationality" and so an area roughly one-fourteenth of the size of Austria is marked as such.

It's an interesting concept, but I see problems with it. First, it gives the impression that people who are in one of the marked groups aren't in any of the others; this isn't true. (In the most extreme case, shouldn't "members of voluntary environmental organizations" be contained entirely within "members of voluntary organizations"?) Second, although I have no concept of the geography of Austria, I'm sure there are parts of it that are more populated than other parts, and I wonder if the map creates false impressions for those people who actually do live in Austria. (For an American example, New Jersey makes up one part in 434 of the land of the United States. Yet one in thirty-four Americans live in New Jersey. I am aware of this, so if someone associated the land making up New Jersey with some one-in-434 subset of Americans, I might get confused. On the other extreme, Carbon County, Wyoming has about the same area, but only about one in twenty thousand Americans lives there. My point is that most people living in a given country probably have some rough idea of how population density in the country is spread out; I suspect that the way they would "intuitively" interpret a map such as this one takes this into account, but not perfectly. (If I had to guess, the population we intuitively perceive to be in a region of a map such as this one is proportional to the integral of the square root of population density, although I just made that up; it somehow seems appealing that we would perceive an area that's actually four times as dense as another to be two times as dense, because that seems to point to some sort of idea of "linear density". Please ignore the fact that the units here don't work.)


Babak said...

Hi Isabel,

The information on the map of Austria is indeed suggestive. Individuals part of one group can indeed, of course, be also part of another.
However, the point is not to create a map, true to life, but a novel way of looking at how one statistics create the image of a nation.

Anonymous said...

Babak, do you intend the reading that viewing any nation through the lens of some arbitrary collection of statistics is inherently reductive and inaccurate?

That is, Austria is far more than these statistics, and an image (here the metaphor is made very literal) created from them can be very misleading.