Skip to main content

Everybody loves visual information — especially Abraham Lincoln.

Infographics are clearly having a cultural moment. They have become pervasive in newspapers, magazines, blog posts, and viral tweets; they appear on television and in advertising, in political campaigns and at art openings. As a Google search term, “infographic” has increased nearly twenty-fold in the last five years. Yet infographics have been popular, in one form or another, for centuries. The source of their power isn’t computers or the Internet, but the brain’s natural visual intelligence.
Gareth Cook, the editor of Best American Infographics 2013, has put together a short but true summary of the history of information graphics. (Many of you who see this blog may know most of it already.) His striking lede recounts how much Abraham Lincoln valued his "slave map," shown above. Lincoln's reliance on the shades of gray throughout the Confederacy made an enormous difference in his Civil War decision-making. Fortunately it's rare that most people have to make life-or-death decisions — but even with our smaller concerns, this incident underscores how vital it is to have accurate, visually synthesized data as the basis for those choices. Imagine Lincoln trying to do this with nothing but columns of numbers.

"Why Abraham Lincoln Loved Infographics" — Gareth Cook, The New Yorker

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Interesting — and timely — look at reapportionment in NC

How they redrew the Tar Heel State's electoral districts in 2011, i.e., why we're stuck with this situation down here. Sigh. A depressingly informative — and useful — infographic by Jon White.

Debt and taxes: some original infoviz creations

I was surprised to read this week that putatively educated Americans (a Louisiana lawyer, a Colorado dentist, an ABC News reporter) don't understand the concept of marginal tax rates. Because of this lack of comprehension, per ABC, the lawyer and dentist are vowing to keep their taxable income below $250,000 to avoid President Obama's proposed tax increase: "I've put thought into how to get under $250,000," said [the ill-informed dentist]. "It would mean working fewer days which means having fewer employees, seeing fewer patients and taking time off." Apparently some clarification is called for. Below is a US federal income tax table for 2009 (source).

This does not mean that if you bring in more than $372,951, every single dollar in your entire pile of money is taxed at 35%. Only Dollar #372,952 (plus whatever additional money you may earn) is taxed at that rate. Dollar #372,950 is taxed at 33%. Meanwhile, Dollar #1 is taxed at 10%. Hence the term "…