Wildfires go viral

28 FEB 2020
Images are potent communicators, so it is important to understand the provenance of photos, graphs, and charts, in order to understand the true context. Are they 'fake' or are they representative of truth. How has the data been manipulated to present a message, and is that message based on objective truth.

The viral image above of Australia on fire is not fake, it is a true representation of the extent of fires in Australia - but it is not a photo from space. And at no time did Australia look like this. The image represents data showing the cumulative wildfires Australia has experienced. It needs no exaggeration - this fire season has been extreme.

But like all statistics it is important to understand the context. A graph with no labels, no axes marked, no scale, conveys no useful information. Generally a graph needs a description - a story to go with the visual representation. "There are three kinds of lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics" is a quote attributable to many - but the truth is that statistics only lie when the underlying data is not explicable.

Australia has been on fire - it just was not enough to light up space. That does not mean we need greater steps to counteract climate change - and misinformation.
By Hab3