Cameron Booth has previously done an Amtrak route map and a map of the U.S. Interstates in the style of a subway diagram; more recently, he’s done a system map of the French high-speed rail network — “all the high speed train routes that pass through France. This includes the French (SNCF) TGV trains, the Eurostar trains from London, the Thalys services from Belgium and the Netherlands, and some ICE services from Germany that operate in tandem with corresponding TGV services from France.” (He’s also done a new version of his Interstate map.)
Speaking of the New York Times, they published an interactive map last week that had me fuming. It was a map that showed the forecast spread of radiation from Fukushima, Japan — or, more precisely, “how weather patterns this week might disperse radiation from a continuous source in Fukushima, Japan” (my emphasis). Of course, the radiation source hasn’t been continuous, so it depicts a hypothetical situation (that with any luck will remain so).
But the map was not just hypothetical, it was downright irresponsible, because its scale was completely arbitrary and relative (see the key at right). In other words, there is no way of telling whether the radiation being depicted was extremely minor (say, a banana’s worth) or something more severe — whether we’re dealing with microsieverts or millisieverts.
The forecast was meant to show dispersal patterns as an aid to radiation monitoring, and in that context this map is useful. But that’s a little too subtle for public consumption, and this map has been widely circulated. When people have been panicking beyond all reason and sense, it’s not enough to say, on the right side of the map, that “[h]ealth and nuclear experts emphasize that any plume will be diluted as it travels and, at worst, would have extremely minor health consequences in the United States” — people will see that plume on the map and freak. OMG it’s coming to get us!
The problem with cartograms is that they can be difficult to interpret: distorting a country to be larger or smaller isn’t helpful if you don’t know the size of the country in the first place, or can’t recognize it when you’re done. None of which applies, however, if you distort a flat map along a third axis — i.e., a three-dimensional cartogram. And if you happen to do it with Lego bricks, well, that just adds an extra veneer of awesome. Via @dvdhns, among others.
Daniel Huffman, author of the Cartastrophe blog about bad map design and — more recently — the map of profanity on Twitter, not only has a new blog called somethingaboutmaps, but his most recent mapping project is a series of maps of river systems done in the style of diagrammatic transit maps — for example, the map of the Mississippi River system, above. Via @axismaps, @beyondmaps and Cartogrammar.