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.

Regional Power Plays

One of the things we missed covering last week whilst I was on holiday? The dust up in the Gulf of Oman, located near the Strait of Hormuz, where two foreign ships were attacked by mines or other explosive devices. The United States blames Iran and, of course, Iran denies it. The thing is, an inordinate amount of oil flows through the Strait, connecting the petroleum-driven economies of the West to the instability in the Middle East. Thankfully we have a graphic from the Guardian to explain just what is going on there.

Not shown: the US, the EU, China, and Russia
Not shown: the US, the EU, China, and Russia

The above is a screenshot from the article, one of several graphics. There is a stacked bar chart showing the total volume of oil in transit, and the Strait’s share of it. Spoiler: it’s significant. We all know how I feel about stacked bars: not the biggest fan.

There are, of course, locator maps showing the locations of the attacked ships. We also have some photographs showing the damage inflicted upon the tankers, as well as some evidence of what the US claims is Iranian activities. (Side note: isn’t it great that when the US really wants the world to trust its intelligence agencies the White House has been doing nothing but trashing said intelligence agencies?)

The above, however, is a simple map showing the political fault line in the Middle East. It gets to the heart of the potential conflict here being not a US vs. Iran war, but a Saudi Arabia vs. Iran war. After all, relations between the Saudis and the Trumps have warmed significantly since the Obama administration. And not shown in the map is the role of Israel, which, again has seen a significant warming in relations between Trump and Netanyahu, and which has also been quietly supporting Saudi Arabia in its undeclared war against Iran, to date fought only with proxies, most notably in Yemen.

In other words, the Middle East is a complicated and complex tinder box, built next to a few nuclear reactors, all of which just happen to sit atop vast reserves of oil and natural gas. So the best thing to do? Clearly start exploding things.

Credit for the piece goes to the Guardian graphics department.

Tornado Alley Spread East

Last week the Philadelphia area experienced a mini tornado outbreak with three straight days of watches and warnings. Of course further west in the traditional Tornado Alley, far more storms of far greater intensity were wreaking havoc. But with tornado warnings going off every few minutes just outside the city of Philadelphia, it was hard to concentrate on storms in, say, Oklahoma.

But the New York Times did. And they put together a nice graphic showing the timeline of the outbreak using small multiples to show where the tornado reports were located on 12 consecutive days.

Who remembers the film Twister?
Who remembers the film Twister?

Of course the day of that publication, 29 May, would see another few dozen, even in and around Philadelphia. Consequently, the graphic could have been extended to a day 13. But that would have been rather unlucky.

From a design standpoint, the really nice element of this graphic is that it works so well in black and white. The graphic serves as a reminder that good graphics need not be super colourful and flashy to have impact.

Credit for the piece goes to Weiyi Cai and Jason Kao.

The Rise of the Tropic(al Plant)s

Last week I had three different discussions with people about some of the impact of climate change upon the United States. However, what did not really come up in those conversations was the environmental changes set to befall the United States. And by environment, I explicitly mean how the flora of the US will change.

Why? Well, as warmer climates spread north, that means tropical and subtropical plants can follow warmer temperatures northward into lands previously too cold. And they could replace the species native to those lands, who evolved adaptations for their particular climate.

Thankfully, last week the New York Times published a piece that explored how those impacts could be felt. Hardiness zones are a concept designed to tell gardeners when and where to plant certain crops. And while the US Department of Agriculture has a detailed version useful to horticulturists, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration produces a very similar version for the purpose of climate studies. And when you group those hardiness levels by the forecast lowest temperatures in an area, you get this.

More palm trees?
More palm trees?

There you have it, the forecast change to plant zones.

From a design standpoint, I like the idea of the colour shift here. However, where it breaks seems odd. Though it could be more influenced by the underlying classifications than I understand. The split occurs at 0ºF, which is well below freezing. I wonder if the freezing point, 32ºF could have been used instead. I also wonder if adding Celsius units above the same legend could be done to make the piece more accessible to a broader audience.

Otherwise, it’s a nice use of small multiples. And from the editorial design standpoint, I like how the article’s text above the graphic makes use of a six-column layout to add some dynamic contrast to what is essentially a three-column layout for the graphics.

They're living on a grid
They’re living on a grid

Credit for the piece goes to Nadja Popovich.

Living in the Dark

Earlier this month the Economist published an article that looked at a different way of measuring the economic output of North Korea. The state is so secretive that the publicly available data we all rely on for almost every country is not available. Nor would we necessarily believe their figures. So we have to rely on other measures to estimate the North Korean economy.

The article is about how luminosity, i.e. the lights on seen from space at night, can be used as a proxy for economic activity in the reclusive state.

No lights to guide me home
No lights to guide me home

The article is a fascinating read and uses a scatter plot to show the correlation between luminosity and GDP per capita then how that translates to North Korea, comparing it to older models.

Credit for the piece goes to the Economist 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.

A Shrinking Illinois

Last week we looked at the data on Pennsylvania from the US Census Bureau and found the Commonwealth’s population is shifting from west of the Appalachians to the southeast of the state. That got me thinking about Illinois, one of three states to have experienced a decline in population. Is there a similar geographic pattern evident in that state’s data? (Plus, I lived there for eight years, so I am curious how the state evolved over a similar time frame.)

A lot more red in this map…
A lot more red in this map…

Well, it turns out the pattern is not so self-evident in Illinois as it is in Pennsylvania. Instead, we see small clusters of light blues across a sea of red. In other words, the population decline is widespread, though not necessarily extreme. However, it is notable that in the far south of the state, Alexander County, home to the city of Cairo, has seen the greatest decline in population since 2010, not just in Illinois, but in the entire United States (in percentage terms).

Unlike Pennsylvania, where the state’s primary city of Philadelphia is growing (albeit slowly), in Illinois the primary city of Chicago has seen its population shrink over the last several years. However, the counties south and west of Cook County have grown. Kendall County, where parts of Aurora and Joliet are located along with growing towns like Oswego and Plano, grew at over 11%.

The state’s other growing counties fall across the state from north to south, east to west. In the south the county containing the eastern suburbs of Carbondale has grown modestly. But for real percentage growth, one should look west towards Monroe County, a southern suburb of St. Louis, Missouri located just across the Mississippi River.

Then in the centre of the state we see growth in McLean and Champaign Counties. The former is home to Bloomington and Normal. While Champaign is home to the eponymous city as well as its neighbour, Urbana.

All in all, the pattern that emerges is that of urban/suburban vs. rural. With some notable exceptions, e.g. Cook County, the only growth in Illinois is in counties that have prominent cities or towns. Meanwhile, rural counties shrink—the aforementioned Alexander most notably.

Credit for this piece is mine.

Abortion by State

In case you did not hear, earlier this week Alabama banned all abortions. And for once, we do not have to add the usual caveat of “except in cases of rape or incest”. In Alabama, even in cases of rape and incest, women will not have the option of having an abortion.

And in Georgia, legislators are debating a bill that will not only strictly limit women’s rights to have an abortion, but will leave them, among other things, liable for criminal charges for travelling out of state to have an abortion.

Consequently, the New York Times created a piece that explores the different abortion bans on a state-by-state basis. It includes several nice graphics including what we increasingly at work called a box map. The map sits above the article and introduces the subject direct from the header that seven states have introduced significant legislation this year. The map highlights those seven states.

We've been calling these box maps. It's growing on me.
We’ve been calling these box maps. It’s growing on me.

The gem, however, is a timeline of sorts that shows when states ban abortion based on how long since a woman’s last period.

There are some crazy shifts leftward in this graphic…
There are some crazy shifts leftward in this graphic…

It does a nice job of segmenting the number of weeks into not trimesters and highlighting the first, which traditionally had been the lower limit for conservative states. It also uses a nice yellow overlay to indicate the traditional limits determined by the Roe v. Wade decision. I may have introduced a nice thin rule to even further segment the first trimester into the first six week period.

We also have a nice calendar-like small multiple series showing states that have introduced but not passed, passed but vetoed, passed, and pending legislation with the intention of completely banning abortion and also completely banning it after six weeks.

Far too many boxes on the right…
Far too many boxes on the right…

This does a nice job of using the coloured boxes to show the states have passed legislation. However, the grey coloured boxes seem a bit disingenuous in that they still represent a topically significant number: states that have introduced legislation. It almost seems as if the grey should be all 50 states, like in the box map, and that these states should be in some different colour. Because the eight or 15 in the 2019 column are a small percentage of all 50 states, but they could—and likely will—have an oversized impact on women’s rights in the year to come.

That said, it is a solid graphic overall. And taken together the piece overall does a nice job of showing just how restrictive these new pieces of legislation truly are. And how geographically limited in scope they are. Notably, some states people might not associate with seemingly draconian laws are found in surprising places: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Maryland, and New York. But that last point would be best illustrated by another box map.

Credit for the piece goes to K.K. Rebecca Lai.

Pennsylvania’s Population Shifts

Last month the US Census Bureau published their first batch of 2018 population estimates for states and counties. Pennsylvania is one of those states that is growing, but rather slowly. It will likely lose out to southern and western states in the 2020 census after which House seats will be reapportioned and electoral college votes subtracted.

From 2018 to 2010, the Commonwealth has grown 0.8%. Like I said, not a whole lot. But unlike some states (Illinois), it is at least growing. But Pennsylvania is a very diverse state. It has very rural agricultural communities and then also one of the densest and largest cities in the entire country with the whole lot in between . Where is the growth happening—or not—throughout the state? Fortunately we have county-level data to look at and here we go.

Some definite geographic patterns here…
Some definite geographic patterns here…

The most immediate takeaway is that the bulk of the growth is clearly happening in the southeastern part of the state, that is, broadly along the Keystone Corridor, the Amtrak line linking Harrisburg and Philadelphia. It’s also happening up north of Philadelphia into the exurbs and satellite cities.

We see two growth outliers. The one in the centre of the state is Centre County, home to the main campus of Pennsylvania State University. And then we have Butler County in the west, just north of Pittsburgh.

The lightest of reds are the lowest declines, in percentage terms. And those seem to be clustered around Scranton and Pittsburgh, along with the counties surrounding Centre County.

Everywhere else in the state is shrinking and by not insignificant amounts. Of course this data does not say where people are moving to from these counties. Nor does it say why. But come 2020, if the pattern holds, the state will need to take a look at its future planning. (Regional transit spending, I’m looking at you.)