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Communicating Data with Tableau by Ben Jones

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Chapter 11. Advanced Maps

“The map is not the territory.”

Alfred Korzybski, philosopher and scientist, 1931

I remember my first job interview after engineering school. The year was 2000, and online maps and driving directions were relatively new. Feeling confident and wearing my best suit, I headed out the door with a printout of my driving directions in hand for what should have been a ten-minute drive north on the Ventura Freeway. Forty-five minutes later and in the middle of a strawberry field in Camarillo, I felt the sting of this quote like never before.

Korzybski’s statement is helpful because it points out that often we confuse an abstraction (like a map) derived from something with the thing itself. Indeed, this idea is applicable to each of the data visualizations we’ve created so far in this book, and is a healthy reminder any time we are communicating data. We’re showing abstract representations of reality, not reality itself. Just because some map says a particular road goes over a creek doesn’t mean the road has to obey, no matter how much a tardy job seeker may want it to. Maps contain approximations, uncertainties, and errors.

So far, we’ve looked at circle maps and choropleth (or filled) maps. In this chapter, we’ll consider a number of other types of maps, including maps with shapes, maps showing paths, and views that plot map shapes on axes. While these additional types of maps may contain their fair share of inaccuracies, they can also serve a purpose as we communicate ...

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