The Worst Infographic Of 2014 (So Far)

In a baffling move, NBC has turned data on U.S. demographics into a map proving that all Asians live in Maine.

Earlier this week, the NBC Nightly News decided to recreate an infographic originally published by the Pew Research Center, showing the distribution of race and ethnicity in the U.S. from 1960 to 2060. The result is so hilariously thick-headed, it might have already won the title of worst infographic of 2014.

As designed by Pew Research, the original visualization wasn't particularly exotic. A rectangular graph tracking how the percentages of different ethnicities in America (white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and so on) had changed across the U.S. over the past 100 years. It wasn't flashy, but it was easy to read and showed, at a glance, where the distribution of races was in 1960 compared with where they are today, and where they are predicted to be by 2060.

The original Pew Research visualization.

But when NBC Nightly News came along, they decided to punch up the "Changing Face Of America" visualization by abandoning the rectangle and charting the graph to a map of the United States instead. And in doing so, they completely changed the data's meaning, instead visualizing... what, exactly?

According to the NBC Nightly News infographic, all Asians live in either Northern Maine or upstate Washington, while South Dakota is an excellent place to be black, along with much of Montana. There is not a single Hispanic within a thousand miles of the Mexican border. And more over, there are hard geographic borders set up to prevent races from drifting into each other's territories.

Meanwhile, talk about jet lag. The time zone difference between the West Coast and the East Coast is 100 years! And, in fact, thanks to some sort of apocalyptic disruption of space-time, the vast majority of Americans either live in the future or the past.

NBC's infographic monstrosity.

In short, just by changing the context of the original infographic, NBC Nightly News turned what was a straightforward visualization of America's demographics over time into some sort of alt-history map of 100 years of ethnic cleansing and racial segregation. Oh, and there's time travel in there for some reason too.

Golf clap, NBC. Golf clap.

Update: Since publishing, NBC has corrected the graphic.

[via Cartonerd]

* - Correction: The original version of this post misidentified Washington as Oregon.

[Image: Face/Palm via Shutterstock]

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  • HUGE difference. Golf clap is that tiny, fast-paced, completely silent clap that makes you look like a pompous douche. Slow clap starts off slow and loud and becomes a cacophony of cheering and excitement. Based on the context of the article, I think you're right, he totally meant to slow clap.

  • John, many thanks for linking to my cartonerd blog on which you've based the article. It truly is a horrible map/graphic/thing. Should we talk commission? ;-)

  • For those who may be confused: It's wrong because it's intended to be read primarily from left to right. The trend lines are what matters, not the depiction of ratios over time. By placing this graphic over the USA, NBC's apparently under-educated "team" invalidated the data. The Pew graphic tells me that in 100 years, Whites will have lost half their presence in society, that Hispanics will have grown from 10% to 31%, and so on. The NBC graphic looks like it was made by Fox News. A fail of the worst order by everyone at NBC who could've and should've prevented this mistake from being seen by more than two people: the designer and the first person to have the power to fix it. Sad.

  • The writing in this article is excellent. When I got to the sentence, "South Dakota is an excellent place to be black," I started a belly laugh that hasn't stopped. Thanks, I needed this today.

  • I would have never looked at that graphic and thought it represented actual geographic location of ethnicities.

    Thinking it represents geography says more about you than it does NBC.

  • Shaunna Lavery

    I think he was trying to be funny. I actually think it says more about NBC, that they would basically alter data like this. What if it was an elementary school child looking at it that might not know better. Do you think it is a good thing for NBC to alter the data in such a way? The article actually states that it doesn't near represent the original data and is basically calling NBC on the misrepresentation of the original data. Maybe you didn't read the whole article before you decided to comment. I guess if only the title was read and the graphic seen, one might think the author thought that.

  • Nick Heilmann

    They didn't alter the data. They just put it on a different background. It's really not that complicated.

  • Loopholes OnLife

    So according to NBC: the trend for 100% of all non-Caucasian ethnicities to settle in cold-weather states is expected to currently be on the rise in the future. Fifty years from now, or today in Eastern Standard Time, 3 out of 10 Americans are already Hispanic immigrants from Canada.

    Amazing, haha. Great article.

  • NBC's infographic department/graphics has to be run by their news media department which is awful. From Matt Lauer to every single reporter and correspondent. They taint stories, they sensationalize and subjectively influence reporting. Wrong things on this chart:

    • Hispanic is not a racial group
    • East coast is not the future nor West coast is the past.
    • Red group showing 'white', more racially affecting the impct. Use the word 'caucasian'
    • The south is not all 'caucassian'
    • This is an overtime distribution chart

    So many mistakes by people who should know better.

  • Sarah Yip

    Actually, the fault for classifying the groups ('hispanic, 'white' etc.) lie with Pew Research. NBC didn't change any of the data, it merely applied the USA map background.

  • Adding to the mistakes, this looks very much like a political map, with the implication that all whites are Republican Red and blacks are Democrat Blue.

  • While the result doesn't totally work, I think it's an interesting attempt to apply the percentages to a geographic area. That, in my opinion, is more relatable than the original graph. I think you're reading too far into the "borders," "territories" and "time zones."

  • Loopholes OnLife

    I'm all for creative presentation and what not. But this is "time series distribution data", the "X axis" is supposed to be time -- not time zones :).

    As another individual alluded to (re: the political maps), it took a basic distribution trend chart and made it appear to be a geographical "heat map".

    It might be more visually appealing to some, but they lost the integrity of the visual in the process. Without any context, that graphic would be very hard to interpret --- and no distribution time series chart should ever be hard to interpret. :)

  • Scott Bruno

    But they're not trying to apply it to a geographic area, they're just using a US map in an attempt to fancy-up the presentation. It doesn't say anything about geographic distribution.

  • Scott, that is what an "infographic" is supposed to do - to effectively add complex substrates of meaning via the graphical representation and juxtaposition of informational elements. (my definition, not Webster's) That's a couple of steps beyond an attempt to "fancy up" the data.

    It was a stupid, non-lethal mistake by some individual with limited understanding of data visualization, but more importantly it was not caught by either layers of editorial and management review or more expert analysts whom we should expect NBC to use.

  • Shaunna Lavery

    By applying the U.S. map they did apply those numbers to a geographical area.