Saturday, September 26, 2020

Data Visualizations & Vintage Maps

Nombre Quotidien de Trains sur le Réseau de L'Ouest by Émile Cheysson

Anyone who has spent any time browsing through the David Rumsey Map Collection will have realized that not only is it a fantastic collection of the world's vintage and historical maps it also contains hundreds of examples of early and iconic data visualizations. Stanford Libraries has released a new online exhibition which uses some of these early examples of information graphics to explore the history of data visualization.

The Data Visualization and the Modern Imagination has been curated by RJ Andrews, a data storyteller based in San Francisco, and the Stanford Libraries. The exhibition includes many classic information graphics which have gone on to inspire data scientists right up until the digital age. These include such classics of data visualization as Alexander von Humboldt's geographical and geological charts, Charles Joseph Minard's flow maps and Florence Nightingale's rose diagrams.

The exhibition is organized into a number of different sections or chapters. These sections explore data visualizations which have been designed to explain different themes, such as geography, time, economics and nature. The exhibition is a great introduction to the history of data visualization. I'm sure it will also prove to be a great source of inspiration to many modern data scientists and digital cartographers.

Friday, September 25, 2020

This Is What 200,000 Deaths Looks Like

The Washington Post has released a sobering visualization of the over 200,000 deaths from Covid-19 in the United States. In order to try to humanize the sheer scale of deaths from Covid-19 in the USA the Post has created an interactive map which shows you what 200,000 deaths would look like if they all occurred in your neighborhood.

In What if all covid‑19 deaths in the United States had happened in your neighborhood? the Post allows you to visualize the over 200,000 deaths which have happened in the last 209 days compared to your local population. Enter your address into the WaPo's interactive map and it will draw a circle around your home showing the extent where 201,688 people live. This is the number of people who have died in the U.S. since the beginning of the present health emergency.

It is a brilliant idea to visualize Covid-19 deaths in terms of the local population. The human brain finds it very difficult to understand large numbers, mostly because we don't have a ready context for numbers over a certain size. So when we say over 200,000 people have died from Covid-19 we have difficulty processing the scale of this disaster. The Washington Post map provides a fantastic way to contextualize this number by allowing you to see what this number of deaths would look like if they all happened among the population of  your immediate neighborhood.

The Post's map is a great idea. So it is important to credit Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paolo whose idea it was. The Washington Post map is an almost direct clone of the Brazilian newspaper's No Epicentro map. No Epicentro works in exactly the same way as the Post's map - only No Epicentro visualizes the number of Brazilian Covid-19 deaths on top of any address in Brazil.

The Indigenous Land Map

LandMark is an interactive map of indigenous and community land across the world. The map shows lands around the globe which are collectively held and used by Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The LandMark interactive map helps to provide Indigenous Peoples and communities with data to protect their land rights and to ensure the security of tenure over their lands.

The indigenous and community lands shown on the LandMark map are lands which are held or used by indigenous peoples and communities. This includes lands that are formally acknowledged by government and also those that are held under customary tenure arrangements. If you click on a land boundary on the interactive map you can learn more about the land, including details on the land's status and its size.

The LandMark map includes a number of other layers. The 'Percent of country held by indigenous peoples and communities' layer allows you to see how much land in each country of the world is currently held by indigenous people. This layer includes two separate views - one which shows indigenous land which is acknowledged by the local government and indigenous held land which is not acknowledged by government.

Other layers allow you to view the legal status of indigenous held land, the rights of indigenous people to the land's natural resources and information on tree cover loss (or gain) on indigenous held land.

If you are interested in the traditional territories of indigenous peoples then you might also like, an interactive map of indigenous territories, languages and treaties around the world.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Mapping Chinese Detention Centers

The Xinjiang Data Project is an interactive map showing 380 suspected detention facilities in the Xinjiang region of China. In the last few years China has detained and arrested over a million Uighurs and other Turkic and Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

Many of the reasons for the arrest of people in XUAR have been farcical. Muslims have been arrested and imprisoned for having 'abnormal' beards, for wearing veils or for avoiding alcohol. In fact people have been arrested for any sign of religious belief or cultural affiliation.

The Xinjiang Data Project map shows the location of 380 detention facilities in Xinjiang where arrested Uighurs are being held. If you select a facility on the map an information window will open with more information, including details on what it is believed the detention center is used for. The Xinjiang Data Project Map also includes an interactive timeline which features significant events in China's persecution of people in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

More evidence of China's re-education detention camps can be viewed on an Amnesty International interactive map. Amnesty International has mapped reports given to them by relatives of imprisoned Muslims in China. The map tells the stories of many Uighur citizens. Most of these Uighurs live abroad but have relatives that have been arrested and detained by the Chinese. You can view and explore the interactive map in Amnesty's Up To One Million Detained in China's Mass Re-education Drive.

Mapping Noise Pollution with Noise

Noisy City is an audible data visualization of noise pollution in the Belgium city of Brussels.

Like most noise pollution maps Noisy City uses a heat map model to visualize the intensity of the noise pollution in different locations. However what I really like about Noisy City is that it also uses real noise to indicate the levels of noise pollution in different parts of the city. Hover over a location on the map and turn on your speakers and you can listen to a representation of the noise levels at that spot in Brussels.

Using real noise to help convey the levels of noise pollution found around the Belgium capital is a clever idea. I also like the animated noise meter which reveals the number of decibels of noise pollution which can be found at each selected location.

One in every four people in Europe live near a road which is responsible for noise levels in excess of 55 decibels. The NOISE Observation & Information Service for Europe map allows you to explore the levels of noise pollution across the continent. The interactive map provides an overview of the levels of noise pollution created by road traffic, railways, airports and industry.

The NOISE map allows you to explore noise pollution levels from four separate sources. Using the map sidebar you can navigate to explore noise levels across Europe from roads, rail, airports or industry. Each of these four separate noise pollution maps provide you with an overview of average noise levels for locations across Europe during the day or at night.

If you click on a location on the NOISE map you can discover the number of people exposed to average noise levels of 55 dB or higher for the selected source of noise pollution. The map will also tell you how many people in the selected country are exposed to noise levels of 55db or above.

The OSM Global Noise Pollution Map uses OpenStreetMap data to estimate the levels of noise pollution across the world. At the heart of the OSM Global Noise Pollution Map is the very clever but simple idea of assigning noise pollution levels based on OpenStreetMap tags.

Map features in OpenStreetMap are assigned a tag which describe what has been mapped. These tags can also be assigned a value. For example all roads are tagged 'highway' but are also assigned a value such as 'motorway', 'secondary' or 'residential'.

The OSM Global Noise Pollution Map use these tags and values to assign a noise pollution level based on general assumptions. For example highway, trunk, primary and secondary roads are deemed to be noisier than normal street or service roads. The OSM Global Noise Pollution Map also assumes that other mapped features, such as railways and retail & industrial zones, will also generate different levels of noise pollution.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

How Map Projections Lie

Mathigon has created an interesting visualization of the distortions created by different map projections. In an online lesson on spheres, cones and cylinders Mathigon looks at the problem of trying to represent a 3D globe on a two dimensional flat surface.

Mathigon explains that it is impossible to open and flatten the surface of a sphere without 'squashing' or 'squishing' certain areas. It illustrates this very effectively with a synchronized map and globe. In the Surface Area of a Sphere you can drag a square around a two dimensional map to observe how this mapped area has been distorted by the chosen map projection. The Mathigon illustration includes examples using four different types of map projection.

If you are interested in how different map projections distort the world then you will probably also like Projection Face. Projection Face is a great illustration of the distortions created by different map projections. The interactive shows how 64 different map projections effect our view of the world by showing each projection's effect when applied to something very familiar - the human face.

The distortions of each of the different projections can be illustrated further by clicking and dragging any of the mapped faces. This illustrates how the different map projections can be distorted themselves simply by changing the center of the map.

Projections Face is an interactive version of a 1924 illustration from Elements of Map Projection with Applications to Map and Chart Construction.

Comparing Map Projections is another clever visualization of different map projections. It allows you to directly compare different types of map projections and see the levels of distortions which each map projection introduces by visualizing a globe in two dimensions.

This interactive visualization provides a useful overview of the advantages and the disadvantages of specific map projections. For example if you select the much maligned Mercator map projection you can see that it scores very low for angular distortion. This means that all the lines of longitude are straight (compare the vertical lines of longitude on the Mercator projection to those on the Sinusoidal projection). The result is that a Mercator projection is really very useful for navigation.

However the Comparing Map Projections visualization also shows that the Mercator projection has very large overall scale distortion. A consequence of having a very low angular distortion is that the Mercator projection distorts scale (especially the further you move from the equator). The result is that the continent of Africa, for example, appears to be similar in size on a Mercator map to the territory of Greenland. You just need to compare Africa and Greenland on a globe to see that Africa is in fact far, far bigger than Greenland.

Make Russia Great Again

As part of Vladimir Putin's expansionist foreign policy Russia has been increasingly relying on private military companies (PMCs) to achieve its overseas economic, geopolitical, and military aims. Under Donald Trump the United States has been kindly withdrawing its military forces and political influence in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia - allowing China and Russia to pursue their grip on global power with very little hindrance.

The Center for Strategic International Studies has been taking a close look at Moscow's Mercenary Wars: The Expansion of Russian Private Military Companies. In this detailed examination of Russia's foreign operations the CSIS reveals how Russia has been using PMCs with local forces to enforce Russian influence and its military and economic interests. An interactive map is used to illustrate the countries where Russia's PMCs have been operating around the world. Satellite imagery is also used to explore where and how Russia trains these PMCs before they are deployed abroad.

One of the first uses of PMCs by Russia was in Ukraine, during Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since then Russia's PMCs have been operating in Ukraine's Donbas region. The PMCs are used to destabilize Ukrainian rule while Moscow sits back and denies any direct responsibility. PMCs have also been widely used by Russia in Syria. In Syria PMCs have been used to capture oil fields, refineries, gas plants, and other energy infrastructure from rebels. Ostensibly these PMCs are used as pro-regime supporters, helping to stabilize Assad's power, but are clearly also being used to pursue Russian economic priorities by securing key energy infrastructure. PMCs have also been extensively used by Russia in the Central African Republic and in Sudan.

The CSIS report on Russia's Private Military Companies uses Mapbox's Scrollytelling Template. Mapbox's Scrollytelling Template is a structured method for building scroll driven narratives using interactive maps. This CSIS report shows how the template can be used with and without the interactive map element - as Moscow's Mercenary Wars removes the map from the story when it isn't needed and adds it back in when it is required to illustrate a point.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Is it Safe to Trick & Treat?

The question on a lot of parents' minds this Halloween will be whether it is safe for their children to go out trick & treating. Halloween 2020 can help. Halloween 2020 provides the latest information about the current Covid risk levels in your county and the kind of Halloween activities that are possible for your county's level of risk.

Halloween 2020 is an initiative from the Hershey chocolate company. Hershey obviously have quite an incentive to encourage children to go out this Halloween. However the health information on Halloween 2020 is from trusted sources. The interactive map on Halloween 2020 comes from the Harvard Global Health Institute. Counties on this map are colored to show the current Covid risk levels based on the latest data on the infection rate in each county.

Once you have determined the risk level in your county you can refer to Hershey's recommended Halloween activities for that level of risk. These activities all adhere to the social distancing recommendations of the CDC. For example if you live in a red zone the recommended activities are designed to avoid contact with other people. These activities include Zoom parties, scavenger hunts around the home and family costume challenges. Activities for children who live in green zones are obviously a little more relaxed and do include activities that involve limited social contact - for example trick or treating at homes which have an official Safehouse certificate (homes that have prepared safe social distancing measures).

The Racial Disparity in Police Arrests

Between 1999 and 2015 the racial disparity in police arrests has increased substantially across the United States. During this period the extent to which Black Americans are arrested at a higher rate than White Americans has grown significantly. During the same period the disparity in police arrests of Asian Americans and American Indians has also grown compared to White Americans.

The Racial Disparities in Police Arrests Map uses FBI data on nationwide arrests (reported by 13,917 police agencies across the United States) to show the disparity in police arrests. The arrest risk ratio used on the map takes into account local population demographics. For example, if 10% of the local population is African-American and 40% of all arrests are of African-Americans then that is a large racial disparity.

In 1999 the average police agency in the United States arrested 5.48 African-Americans for every White person arrested. In 2015 this had risen to an average of 9.25 African-Americans being arrested for every White person arrested. So in sixteen years the racial disparity in people being arrested in the United States almost doubled.

The Racial Disparities in Police Arrests Map was created to illustrate a working paper for the Institute for Policy Research by Beth Redbird and Kat Albrecht. You can view the paper itself on the IPR website, Racial Disparity in Arrests Increased as Crime Rates Declined.

Monday, September 21, 2020

A Blueprint to Save Earth

A global team of scientists has spent over two years identifying the areas around the world that need to be protected in order to save the remaining biodiversity and biological wealth of our planet. If these identified areas are not conserved then we will not safeguard our biosphere. The Global Safety Net is therefore nothing less than a blueprint which has been designed to help save planet Earth.

The Global Safety Net Viewer is an interactive map which allows you to explore the areas around the world which have been identified as in most need of protection. These areas represent 50.4% of the terrestrial surface of the Earth. Using the map you can view five main layers; species rarity sites, high biodiversity areas, large mammal landscapes, intact wilderness, and additional climate stabilization areas. Together (with some additional wildlife corridors) these areas, if protected & conserved, will be able to sustain the world's current biodiversity.

If you select a country on the map you can view a chart showing the percentage of the land which needs protecting and a 'Protection Level' score showing how much of this land is already under environmental protection. The map can therefore be used to view the land that needs to be protected in each country and how much of that land is currently protected.

The 'Protection Level' score given to each country is in the range 0 to 10 - with a higher score indicating the most protection. The scores are based on the percentage of land which is protected. A score of 0 indicates that less than 5% of the land is protected. A score of 10 indicates more than 95% of land is protected. While a score of 5 indicates that roughly half the land is protected. The United States currently has a score of 3. This means the USA is protecting about 30% of the land that it needs to in order to protect the Earth's biodiversity.