Is this really the best way to illustrate world population?

This chart is very pretty and colorful, but all it’s really doing is plotting a single variable, population size, against the arbitrary names of political subunits. It’s hard to read and difficult to extract any information about relationships from it. I think the creators need to go back and re-read (or read for the first time?) Edward Tufte.

This is what you get when someone is told to make some visual candy that really pops, rather than to transform information into a visual medium. My eyes are simultaneously stimulated and offended.


  1. AstroLad says

    I read your first two lines, then scrolled down to look at the chart. My reactions was they need to read Tufte. I admit it’s on my shelf but I have not read more than a bit of it. But then again I never produce anything remotely like this (limp excuse). Then I read your third sentence…

  2. addicted4444 says

    I’m gonna defend the chart to some extent. There’s definitely better ways of doing this, but the chart does a decent job of conveying the relative population sizes of different regions, as well as sub-regions (for example, you get an idea of the size of Africa, but also broken down further into sub-Sahran Africa, or Asia, but also the Indian Subcontinent), while also placing them spatially in a way that’s reasonably consistent with their location on a standard map.

    Finally, it does this all while holding onto the conceit that it’s displaying the population of the earth in a shape that is roughly the shape of the earth in 2 dimensions.

  3. rblackadar says

    It’s just a treemap in an unusual shape. The shape makes it sorta cute but doesn’t add any info that I can see. OTOH it doesn’t detract, either. Pretty neutral. It says what it intends to say — that and no more, of course — truthfully. Seems OK to me, Tufte-wise.

  4. rblackadar says

    …that said, the colors could have been done better. At a glance it looks like India is much larger than China, but that’s because the large brown region is not just India.

  5. rblackadar says

    … and on reflection I pretty much agree with PZ — what is the point they are trying to make here? So I will stop digging my hole.

  6. rblackadar says

    ..ah, now I see what’s wrong — the boundary lines are obscured by the use of flat colors. It would have worked out much better if they’d used the kind of “3D” shading that normally appears in treemaps, e.g. WinDirStat. Especially for the darker regions of the figure. Done shoveling now, I think.

  7. birgerjohansson says

    It would have been more offensive if USA and most of western Europe had been on top. Instead this position is taken by Slav indo-Europeans (Russia) .
    Adressing population, it does not bring home hos much each country spends on research. With that metric South Korea is larger than India !

  8. Rich Woods says

    The structure and labelling is inconsistent. It’s useless for any sort of at-a-glance relay of information.

  9. birgerjohansson says

    The Arab countries show up in terms of population, but -being dictatorial and corrupt- they would not show up at all in a diagram of science spending.
    This is a sad state for regions that once laid the groundwork for the renaissance.

  10. birgerjohansson says

    The former Grand Imperial Wizard (you know who I am talking about) would have had the diagram ordered by melanin content. Except ze joos.

  11. Walter Solomon says

    North Africa should be included with the Middle East (MENA) but I’m guessing this chart isn’t about shared culture but continents.

    Why is Eurasia broken up into Europe and Asia if that’s the case though?

  12. Tethys says

    Why is that large blue section of Asia being labeled as Europe? Western Asia and Eastern Europe overlap, but according to this thing, Sarah Palin can see Europe from her window.

  13. schweinhundt says

    So, as a map nerd (vice being a biologist), I have to say this map graphic is definitely not badly done. While not perfect—as pointed out by reasonable critiques in the comments above, it at least achieves its apparent goal of illustrating relative population size across the globe.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Tethys @ 16
    Sarah Palin can see Germany with its socialised health system (AAARGHH!)
    … and If Lula wins the election in Brazil she can see a place with a socialist president from her window. And then there is Venezuela…

  15. says


    You’re misinterpreting “this thing”. And it was Tina Fey who said she could see Russia from her house. The problem with Sarah Palin’s (true) claim that “you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska, from an island in Alaska” is that she was offering it as evidence of her foreign policy credentials.

  16. macallan says

    Most of the Russian Federation wasn’t in Europe last time I checked. Most of their population is though.

  17. Tethys says

    Jim Balter~ You’re misinterpreting “this thing”.

    I made a joke, clearly. I’m not misinterpreting it at all. It perfectly accurate if you wish to erase the multiple indigenous, and non- Russian populations of North Asia. Simply brutalize the obviously Asian ethnic populations, and then deport thousands of Eastern European people to Siberia for 100 years.
    Et voila, Asia is magically white as Europe.