Maps of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is preparing for elections at the end of the month. For decades since independence from Belgium, the country has been beset by insurrection and civil war. Eastern portions of the country are all lawless and beyond the control of the government in the capital Kinshasa. Yet, DR Congo, which is almost the size of all of Western Europe, holds vast mineral and energy reserves.

Much like with the independence of South Sudan, the BBC has released a small interactive piece detailing DR Congo through maps. While not as extensive and lacking in visualising anything about the warfare and bloodshed, the piece is useful to gain a brief insight into the complexities of the country and the sheer scale of its problems. But that is not wholly surprising as the title of the piece is Failed State: Can DR Congo Recover?.

Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo
Screenshot of a guide to DR Congo

The European Debt Crisis. Again.

Nearly a month ago, the New York Times released an interactive piece along with a printed infographic about the European debt crisis in an attempt to explain just what is going on; I wrote about it here.

Now, the BBC has an interactive graphic showing how different countries relate to each other. The width of the lines relates to the amount of debt and the colours fall into three groups: red for high risk, yellow for medium risk, and grey for low risk. These are all fairly sensible and are echoed in the New York Times piece.

The BBC's explanation of the European debt crisis
The BBC's explanation of the European debt crisis

However, one advantage of the diagram used by the BBC is that the arrows emerge from an arc and show the total amount of debt going to the selected European (and US) economies. At least, I hope they do. That is how I read it, but it is not explicitly stated. I hope that I am correct. If so, this is better than the Times version which simply has a proportionally wide line starting from a circle. But without other lines, one cannot see the useful supplemental information about how much total trade the country has.

One element that sticks out is the selected state of the diagram. This uses a blue line that is rather crudely drawn atop the arc. Distractingly so. The colour choice works as blue contrasts with the reds, yellows, and greys, but the execution of the line drawing is simply poor.

Overall, the data is interesting, and if my assumption is correct, and presents a more meaningful picture of trade relations between the chosen countries. However, the execution of the piece’s design does leave me wanting more. And that, given the need to tell this story both completely and correctly, is unfortunate.

Much Improved Mapping of American Migration

Forbes released Jon Bruner’s latest map of migration in the United States. It uses IRS figures to show inbound and outbound movement from counties across the United States. The work itself is an improvement from his map from last year, which was a bit more difficult to read. Beneath is the new version, and at the end, for comparison, the old.

This year's migration map
This year's migration map

Firstly, the colour palette is far more sophisticated. Secondly, and most crucially, the user can hide the lines on the map, which obscures a key part of the story of migration in urban areas—higher income people moving out of the city and into the suburbs. Thirdly, the map data now includes additional years, which are available by clicking the small chart in the upper right—a welcome addition that allows the data from last year’s map to become accessible this year. Fourthly, and to be fair this may have existed previously but not that I can recall, the new map is accompanied by essays.

These essays use the map and its data to tell stories and explain what one sees going on with the data. It is (relatively) easy for one to put together a piece of data visualisation from a data set. But, without knowing where to look, users may not actually find anything valuable in the visualisation. By pointing to these essays, the map—already much improved from a design perspective—takes on a much more rounded and mature character and becomes more about generating information and knowledge than simply figures and statistics.

Last year's migration map
Last year's migration map

Income Segregation in the Philadelphia Metro Area

In an area very close to me…quite literally…the New York Times published an article about increasing segregation between the rich and the poor via the areas where they live. The study by Stanford University found that the Philadelphia metropolitan area saw the “sharpest rise” in segregation since the 1970s—the study used census data available through 2007. The accompanying graphic highlights the growth of the segregation from 1970, using small multiples of choropleths to compare 1970 to 1990 to 2007.

In 1970, much of the metro area was middle-income neighbourhoods. Certainly, the central core of Philadelphia was depressed. So too was Chester and rural southwestern Chester County. The upper-income neighbourhoods were in the close suburbs, note the townships stretching due west of the city and you see the Main Line, one of the most affluent areas of the United States, while other veins of wealth extend along other old rail lines leaving the city.

Neighbourhoods by Income in 1970
Neighbourhoods by Income in 1970

Those such as myself who are familiar with both the area and recent history should note that places like Coatesville and Downingtown are shown as middle-income. In the 1970s, areas like this and in similar places like Falls Township in Bucks County had robust steel and manufacturing sectors that employed a substantial portion of the local population.

But, compare this to 2007 and you will begin to see how many old factory towns of middle-income areas became dense pockets of depression while the city of Philadelphia itself saw a flight of wealth to the rest of the suburbs. The rural parts of Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks have seen high growth by means of new developments of upper-middle- and upper-income homes.

The Case Against Jerry Sandusky

Penn State is going through some rough times. The charges against Jerry Sandusky are most serious and the failure to do more than the legal requirement in reporting him has cost the university president his job and head coach Joe Paterno his job. Anyone familiar with the school or Paterno’s prior standing in the state—as I am as both a former student at Penn State and nearly life-long resident of Pennsylvania—is shocked/gutted/upset about what has happened.

The Washington Post, in an attempt to make sense of the charges against Sandusky, created this graphic explaining the timeline of the allegations and actions taken by principle players.

An infographic outlining the allegations made against Jerry Sandusky
An infographic outlining the allegations made against Jerry Sandusky

Credit for the piece goes to Bonnie Berkowitz and Laura Stanton of the Washington Post.

Hispanic Growth in the Plains

There is a scene in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica where with the human population almost extinct, one character comments on the romances of two others by saying “they better start having babies”.

The demographics of the United States are changing. Not that they were not changing prior to recent years; Native American populations were reduced by English and Scottish settlers; the English and Scottish populations were diluted by Germans; then came the Irish and the Italians; then the Slavs; then Chinese—simplistic, but you get the idea.

Now, in the Midwest, as the New York Times reports in both an article and its supporting graphic, the long-established relative decline of the United States’ white population is being checked by a surge in Hispanic growth, especially in the rural plains states.

Hispanic Growth in the Plains
Hispanic Growth in the Plains

I am never so much a fan of the circles as sizes of population—a choropleth would have worked equally well—but it does suffice for this graphic. My larger concern is that the graphic measures growth but does not state growth between what years. Presumably, though the data is sourced from Queens College Department of Sociology, it originates in census figures. That would most likely mean growth between 2000 and 2010.

Armistice Day

Today is Veterans Day. Originally it was called Armistice Day. At 11.00 on 11/11 in 1917, fighting ceased between the Allies and Germany. World War I was effectively over.

Since World War I, in the United States, we have gone on to have World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the First Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, the Second Gulf War and many smaller conflicts in between. The holiday now represents all veterans, but, it started to commemorate that first horrible war in the West’s history: the Great War of 1914–1918.

This graphic, from a post at a bookstore owned by John Ptak, originally comes from a larger illustration (beneath) in the Illustrated London News of Royal Navy losses at the conclusion of World War II. For comparison’s sake the original illustrator, G.H. Davis, included this drawing of the Royal Navy’s losses in the Great War of 1914–1918. That war, in naval terms, is perhaps best known for one of the few true battles between battleships on a large scale: the Battle of Jutland.

Royal Navy losses in World War I
Royal Navy losses in World War I
Royal Navy losses in World War II
Royal Navy losses in World War II

363 Days

We are now just under 365 days away from Election Day 2012. Without a doubt, I shall have many politically-themed graphics coming. People just have to start making them. But for now, the Economist kicked it off Monday—when it was 365 days—with a motion graphic piece that outlines some of the polling numbers and challenges to the Republicans vying for power and President Obama determined to keep it.

365 days until Election Day 2012
365 days until Election Day 2012

Certain types of the chart are very much not helpful in determining the actual numerical comparisons. But, with the voiceover keeping our attention and explaining what is going on with the charts, it is as always interesting to experience a story told in charts and graphs for nearly three minutes. And about a story with real significance.