Our current idea of Red and Blue states was an accident of TV news data visualization. While the international tradition was that "red" was leftist and "blue" was conservative. Perhaps trying to resist those stereotypes, news broadcasts used to toggle the colors of their election maps. But during the 2000 election, when the colors happened to be red=conservative, blue=liberal — the vote count and controversy wore on, with a flood of visualizations, and those colors got locked in to how Americans identify themselves.

All that is to say that we're using the term "mapping" here in the broadest sense to include both geographic information and all forms of data visualization. All the various information prosthetics and heuristics we use to make sense of data abstractions.

Conceptualizing a territory, or data, is never a 1:1 representation. Quite the opposite — any good visualization must erase almost everything, leaving only a narrowly chosen perspective. It's hard to do well, and very easy to get wrong. But maybe even more dangerous is doing it well with distorted data. The resulting falsification can be very seductive, since it looks obvious and true.

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