The Ebola Outbreak in the Congo

Ebola, which killed 11,000 people in West Africa in 2014 (which I covered in a couple of different posts), is back and this time ravaging the Congo region, specifically the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The BBC published an article looking at the outbreak, which at 1,400 deaths is still far short of the West Africa outbreak, but is still very significant.

That's looking like a tenuous border right now…
That’s looking like a tenuous border right now…

The piece uses a small multiples of choropleths for western Congo. The map is effective, using white as the background for the no case districts. However, I wonder, would be more telling if it were cases per month? That would allow the user to see to where the outbreak is spreading as well as getting a sense of if the outbreak is accelerating or decelerating.

The rest of the article features four other graphics. One is a line chart that also looks at cumulative cases and deaths. And again, that makes it more difficult to see if the outbreak is slowing or speeding up. Another is how the virus works and then two are about dealing with the virus in terms of suits and the containment camps. But those are graphics the BBC has previously produced, one of which is in the above links.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Tory Leadership Process

Today is another day in the Tory leadership election that will eventually see approximately 120,000 members of the Conservative Party electing the next prime minister of the 66,000,000 people living in the United Kingdom. The remaining candidates need at least 33 votes from MPs to move on. Those and/or the last place candidate will be eliminated. The question today is whether Dominic Raab, Sajid Javid, and Rory Stewart can move to the next round along with the front runner Boris Johnson and his two not-really-close-but-someone-has-to-be-a-significant competitors, Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove.

But what happens after today’s vote? The BBC created a graphic explaining it all.

Oh yeah, and Brexit is still happening.
Oh yeah, and Brexit is still happening.

It’s a simple concept: a calendar that uses shades and outline boxes to highlight particular dates.

But the elephant in this particular Westminster cloakroom is that the Tories are using all this time whilst the Brexit clock keeps ticking down to 31 October.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Climate Impact of Your Food

Climate change is a thing. And facing it will require a lot of our societies. But the longer we choose not to act, the more the impact will be felt by later generations. Consequently, across the world, young students have been walking out of class to shine light on an issue on which they, as children, have little direct impact. Yet. But what about us? The ones who can vote and make lifestyle decisions?

The BBC had a piece where, after soliciting questions from their readership, they answered questions. One question being, what can individuals do to reduce their impact. And while clearly individuals need to do more than one thing, one facet can be examining one’s diet. The article included this graphic on the climate impact of various food types, vis-a-vis greenhouse gas emissions.

Is this saying I should drink more beer?
Is this saying I should drink more beer?

Essentially we are looking at a simplified box plot of greenhouse gas emissions per serving of food (and drink) type. The box plot looks at a range of values for a specific item. It usually shows the extremes at both ends; the range of a significant number of the data points, e.g. 80% of the set, or by decile, or by quartile; and then lastly the average, be it mean or median. Here we have only low impact, high impact, and average impact. Presumably the minimum, maximum, and then either mean or median.

And it works really well. Chocolate is a great example of how on average, chocolate isn’t terrible. But certain chocolates can have far worse ramifications than low-impact beef, or average-impact lamb and prawns. And beef is well known to be one of the most impactful types of food.

From a design standpoint, I don’t know if the colours necessarily help. The average beef impact, for example, is worse than the high-impact maximum of every other food listed. But the association of green=good and red=bad  here has little value because by that logic, the average=gold beef should be red as it sits above the high-impact everything else. A less editorial choice could be made of say a light grey or blue and then have the bright colour, maybe still orange, indicate where the average sits on that spectrum.

I do like the annotations on the chart. It highlights particular stories, like the aforementioned chocolate one, that the casual, i.e. skimming, reader may miss.

I could probably do without the little food illustrations. But the designer did a good job of making them all recognisable in such a small space—far from an easy task. And being so small, they don’t really distract or take away from the whole graphic.

Overall, this is a strong graphic.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Maps as (Potential) Political Statements

Maps are tricky things. They are simplified means of conveying, often in two-dimensions, a highly complex three-dimensional object. An object that includes geological data, climatological data, human demographic data, biome data, and even geopolitical data. Consequently, any designer has to make decisions about what things to include and what not to include on a particular map.

Often times, a lot of things can be struck from a map. How often do you really need to explicitly see the tectonic plates? Climate regions? Plant hardiness? Even topographic figures? If you do not need to show them, omit them. Easy peasy.

One level, if you will, of data that is often difficult is that of geopolitics, or the placement of arbitrary lines on Earth that demarcate borders of sovereignty or authority. Everyone claims something. Alas, sometime those claims overlap. But if you are showing the world and a region in conflict, how do you show those borders? How would you, for example, show the limits of present-day Israel, it’s settlements, Palestinian territory pre-1967, Palestinian area of control today? Jammu and Kashmir (and China)? Abyei? The Senkaku Islands?

Well, last week, we got news from Ethiopia where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a map that, well, looked in part like this:

Where's Waldo? Not in Somalia.
Where’s Waldo? Not in Somalia.

And that map set off a minor row. The entire ministry’s website is now offline and the ministry apologised for not knowing how the map “crept” onto the site.

But it potentially illustrates someone’s beliefs on the true extent of Ethiopian rule. Because, to the southeast, along the coast of the Indian Ocean, that is the sovereign country of Ethiopia. Oddest about the map, it shows Somaliland, a breakaway region of Somalia internationally recognised by very few states, as an independent country.

On the other hand, I doubt whether this was truly a malicious plot. It contains at least two other substantial errors. Immediately west of Ethiopia proper is Sudan. The map ignores the new state of South Sudan (and the aforementioned disputed territory of Abyei). And then a bit further west is the Republic of the Congo. And that one is all messed up. There is, of course, a country called the Republic of the Congo, but it is a relatively small fraction of that reddish-pink shape and exists in the west. The remainder of the shape is one of the largest countries in the world—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC. (Often times you will hear the smaller state, Republic of the Congo, called Congo-Brazzaville after its capital to distinguish between the two.) But since the DRC is one of the more powerful states on the continent why would the Ethiopian Ministry of Affairs want to start something?

And that’s why I think this is a minor dustup about nothing. But, it shows how acknowledging which arbitrary lines drawn on a map we choose to display can create tensions. And worse.

Credit for the piece goes to the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 

A World Without Addresses

I am always intrigued by the mental maps people create for themselves and the environments in which they live. (Try it yourself, draw a map of your day-to-day world. How far can your mind draw streets, neighbourhoods, landmarks, &c. without the aid of a Google Maps?) In this article from the BBC, a Sierra Leonean-Gambian journalist related how he dealt with the lack of a formal address system in the Gambia impacted his ability to do even the simple things like providing a mailing address on postal or banking forms. They provide a very large space for the individual to draw their home address on a map.

At the corner of the street south of the roundabout and between the police station and  open air car showroom.
At the corner of the street south of the roundabout and between the police station and open air car showroom.

But unlike my interest in what could you or I draw, this is practical. There is no other option than to be able to draw your neighbourhood. The whole article is well worth a read to help you…gain perspective on your surroundings.

Happy Friday, all.

Credit for the piece goes to Ade Daramy.

Britain Bombing in Eurovision

Last weekend was not only the Game of Thrones finale, but also the Eurovision final. For the Americans not familiar with it, it’s a part music, part theatrics competition between all European countries and then sometimes guest countries like Australia or Israel. The winner is chosen by the total number of points their act receives. The UK, as one of the largest countries in Europe, is one of the few countries that is guaranteed a spot.

But that doesn’t mean the UK performs well. Last weekend, the UK bombed. The winner, the Netherlands, scored 498 points. The UK? 11. But the UK has been terrible for years now. And unlike in American baseball, it’s not because tanking gets you coveted draft picks for new talent. The BBC charted the placement of the British entries since its last win in 1997, the height of Cool Britannia.

Consistently bad over the last several years
Consistently bad over the last several years

Design wise, I wonder about the horizontal movement of places. A top-to-bottom movement might make more sense. The labelling here is also a bit too much. My eye immediately settles on the black text for the years, as their tight spacing creates a dark field that overpowers the otherwise nice light blue–dark blue contrast in the graphic. Maybe the beginning and end years could have been labelled with some key intervals, say every five years?

Similarly, the use of the ordinal number over the cardinal on the right hand side puts more emphasis on the labelling than the graphic itself. Here, however, the designers wisely chose a grey for the text so as not to overpower the graphic. But I wonder if the use of a cardinal number could have reduced the extra bits of text at the end and drive more focus to the graphic.

Overall, it’s a neat graphic. But I think a few small tweaks could improve the design. Unfortunately for the UK, they are more than just a few small tweaks away from winning Eurovision 2020.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Chrysanthemum Throne

Today we move from the Iron Throne of Westeros (Game of Thrones) to the Chrysanthemum Throne of Japan. Emperor Akihito abdicated his throne in favour of his son Naruhito. Fascinatingly, because Japanese monarchs are not allowed to abdicate, the Japanese parliament had to pass a law allowing Akihito to do just that. It was also a one-time deal. The next emperor would need similar legislation should he ever want to abdicate. You will also note there are a lot of male pronouns in this paragraph. By law, women cannot inherit the throne. And when royal princesses marry, they leave the royal household.

Not surprisingly, the news today had some graphics depicting the family tree of the Japanese royal family. And you all know how much I am a sucker for genealogy related work. This piece comes from the BBC and it is pretty simple. It uses a nice grey bar to indicate the generations and some titling indicates who succeeds whom.

There ain't no Cersei here…
There ain’t no Cersei here…

The graphic also makes rather painfully clear that if Japan wants to preserve its monarchy, it will need to embrace some kind of reforms. There are only four males left in the line of succession and only one is likely to have any sons.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

The Fire at Notre Dame Cathedral: Part Deux

Yesterday I mentioned how there were few graphics detailing the fire at Notre Dame de Paris. Just give media organisations a day. The BBC published this piece about the fire. It includes, much like the Times piece from yesterday, an illustrative diagram detailing the key locations of the fire.

But the BBC piece goes a bit further and includes photo sliders like this.

The roof is on fire
The roof is on fire

It shows the extent of the fire burning away at the roof. (Amazingly, the stone vaulted ceiling below the roof contained most of the fire as the ground floor is nearly intact.)

Another slider looks at the appearance of the cathedral while photographs are annotated to provide immediate context of what the reader is seeing.

Overall, it is a very strong piece.

Credit for the piece goes to the BBC graphics department.

Blackholes and Revelations

On Sunday night I went to see the English rock band Muse perform here in Philadelphia. The concert was to support their latest album, but of course they played Starlight, a song which gave us its respective album’s title: Blackholes and Revelations.

Then on Wednesday, scientists announced that for the very first time, we have actually been able to take a photograph of a blackhole. This one is a supermassive black hole at the heart of the M87 galaxy, some 500 million trillion kilometres distant.

Hopes and expectations?
Hopes and expectations?

The bright light, or ring of fire, is the heated gas before falling beneath the event horizon, which here is the black disk. Beyond that point, the gravitational force is so strong that not even light can escape. And of course without light escaping to be seen, a black hole cannot be directly imaged. Instead, we have to look for its accretion disc.

It’s just cool.

Credit for the piece goes to the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration.

The Stunted Growth of North Korea

This piece from the BBC is a few years old, but it provides some interesting nuggets about North Korea. Unsurprisingly it appeared on my radar because of the coverage of the Trump–Kim summit in Vietnam. The article says it is nine charts that tell you all you need to know about North Korea. Now, I do not think that is quite true, but it does contain the following graphic—I hesitate to call it a chart—that illustrates one of my favourite details.

It's just a matter of inches
It’s just a matter of inches

The two figures illustrate the average height of a person from North Korea and then South Korea. What do you see? That the North Korean is shorter. This is despite the fact that the populations were the same just a few decades ago. The impact of years of malnutrition, undernourishment, and general lack of well-being have manifested themselves in the physical reduction of size of human beings compared to their nearly identical population to the south.

Thankfully the rest of the piece contains data on things like GDP, birth rates, and life expectancy. So there are some things in there that one should know about North Korea. As much as I find the story of height interesting, I struggle to think it is one of the nine things you should really know about the state.

Credit for the piece goes to Mark Bryson, Gerry Fletcher, and Prina Shah.