The significance of NASA’s image of the world at night

ADDITION Earth At Night

This image from NASA has been put together from over 400 satellite images and shows the Earth at night.

It’s one of my favourite pictures – because it tells you something about the world that you know instantly is true.

You can’t fake where the lights are. The satellites are taking pictures of where there is light, and you see darkness where there is none.

Why is this significant?

We are surrounded by data. We use this data to make inferences and come to views on what is going on in the world.

We use GDP to figure out which countries are doing well and which ones are doing badly.

We use international trade to talk about which counties have the most economic power.

We talk about human rights, standards of living and happiness indices to demonstrate our support for countries and their policies.

All these things are conclusions and opinions we come to based on what we read and the data we select to support our conclusions.

What I like about this picture is that you can use it to sense check your conclusions.

For example, take this image from Freedom House that shows a map of freedom in the world, from where people are least free to most free.

The parts of the map in green are the most free – and make up most of the world’s main democracies.

You may disagree with the map and its makers, but I think you will see something quite interesting when you compare this map and NASA’s image.

Countries that are free tend to have the lights on.

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