Thursday, February 09, 2012

Infographic Insights into proxies for Faith and Facts

By Gary Berg-Cross

The graphic abilities provided by the modern Web allow quite a range of infographic and geographic displays. You can see briefings on many topics such as “Visualizing the Nutritional Terrain of American Cities" which leverage advancements in visualization and geographic data.

These can pack a mix of data, text and analysis into a single image. Sometimes its basically an ad such as are appearing for Valentine’s day and what you can get your “sweetie pie.” Organizations use them for various purposes including advertizing events and showing overall organization. The one below is calendar-map infographic from, which is a Russian infographics site and design agency in Moscow (but can be viewed in English). The Infographic Events Calendar 2011-2012 shows many (but not all) of the visualization, data and infographic conferences and events being held around the world in 2012. Without a big poster its hard to read, but one can zoom in and find things.

But scientific results can be packed into infographics like these too especially using a spatial or map dimension to lay information out in a way that humans can easily process. There are now a wide range of urban and national maps using a range of data often displayed geographically. One that I ran across of the site. It has many interesting summary graphics. One visualizes the abortion debate. The map shows:

“difference between the number of abortion alternatives and abortion providers listed in the Google Maps directory is mapped across the US in quarter degree intervals. The greatest difference in favor of abortion providers is found in New York City, with Los Angeles and Seattle representing a similarly disproportionate number of abortion providers. “

The mapping christianity infographic is one that Secular Perspective readers would probably be interested in. Floatingsheep displayed several images at a New Technologies and Interdisciplinary Research on Religion. The image below shows their map of Europe with a split between

“Orthodox Eastern Europe, Protestant Germany, and Catholic everywhere else. In places such as the U

K that contain more Protestants than Catholics it is likely that people aren't using the actual term "Protestant" as a signifier of their religion.”

But my favorite of theirs is what they call their “Baptists,bibliophiles, and bibles, Oh My! Others have called it Churches vs. Books and a rendition of 2 powerful, often opposing forces within society - faith and reason or knowledge seeking as they say on their site:

“Regardless of the extent to which a cultural war exists, the balance between the two (e.g., teaching evolution in the schools, etc.) is a prominent feature of popular socio-political discourse in the United States. Thus, the topics makes a perfect subject of a map and leads us to ask which parts of the country prefer bookstores to bibles? What's the ratio of Baptists to bibliophiles?

Using the number of Google Maps directory listing for
"bookstores" and "churches" as proxy values, this visualization maps the spectrum of the faith and reason conflict. As there are an overwhelmingly larger number of churches than bookstores nationwide it is important to index each of these variables before comparison. The technique used in this map was to divide the number of churches (or bookstores) at a location by the national average of churches or bookstores. If a location had twice the number of churches as the national average it would receive an indexed value of 2. Similarly having only 50 percent of the national average of bookstores would produce an indexed value of 0.5. The church index was then divided by the bookstore index to see each locations relative balance of churches to bookstores. If each of the indexed values were the same, the faith-reason index would be equal to 1. But as in the case of the example above (church index = 2, bookstore index = 0.5) the faith-reason index would be 4. This indicates that this particular location has a much higher relative number of churches to bookstores. In order to exclude places that had approximately equal number of churches and bookstores, this map only includes locations where the faith-reason index was skewed more than 20 percent in either direction (i.e., values greater than 1.2).

For the most part, the relative prevalence of bookstores occurs in and around the big cities - Los Angeles, California is the site of the highest indexed value, and is joined by the megalopolis of the eastern seaboard as having the highest concentrations in favor of bookstores. Even cities such as Atlanta, nestled in the Bible Belt of the American southeast, tend towards a relatively large number of bookstores. On the converse, other large cities like Dallas, San Antonio and Houston continue to favor churches, with New Orleans (the largest city in Louisiana) having the highest relative concentration of churches in the nation. Suburban areas surrounding large population centers also show a near-universal favoritism for churches.”

Of course like many graphic summaries there is a devil in the detail. Cleary the US south has a lot of churches, but as some have noted many are tiny, with modest congregations. You can’t see in the map population % this is church going versus to compare it to the % that purchase. Still it is an interesting view of a seeming antagonism.

No comments: