I hadn’t planned on posting anything about Trump’s Sharpie-adjusted hurricane forecast map: there was nothing useful for me to add to the discussion, and presumably you’d all heard about it already and didn’t need me to tell you. But it turns out something map-related can, and has, been said about the issue.
Because of this unyielding commitment to accuracy, I believe cartography enjoys an enviable position of credibility and confidence among the people who see it. If you see it mapped, you believe.
That is precisely what you want the case to be, particularly in natural disasters. This cartography should be devoid of any attempt to deceive. Its only agenda should be to inform and enlighten.
That’s what made Trump’s marked-on map such a blasphemy: It attacked, on a fundamental level, truth, science and public trust. It wasn’t just a defacement of a public document, it was a defilement of a sacred trust.
Usually, attempts to falsify tend to happen before maps are published, and don’t try to contradict established scientific facts. You can put a spin on something by influencing the appearance of a map before it’s published. You can put a spin on things by determining what is and is not going to be mapped. Something that might put your administration in an unfavorable view, for example: Those maps won’t be part of the plan. […]
But the Trump map is unusual. I cannot find anything truly comparable. We had a map that was already out there that he actually mutilated, and in a very obvious way. This guy shows absolutely no subtlety at all. And then people try to make excuses for him. I have never seen anything like this.
Trump’s little stunt has revealed something very interesting about how we see maps.
Even though there are different place associations that probably mean more to you as an individual, such as a neighborhood, street, or the block you live on, the zip code is, in many organizations, the geographic unit of choice. It is used to make major decisions for marketing, opening or closing stores, providing services, and making decisions that can have a massive financial impact.
The problem is that zip codes are not a good representation of real human behavior, and when used in data analysis, often mask real, underlying insights, and may ultimately lead to bad outcomes.
Zip codes, Matt says, are arbitrary: too many things going on at a local level can be missed if they don’t line up with zip code boundaries (such as the Flint water crisis). He does offer some alternatives: census tracts, spatial indices and good old fashioned addresses.
The HTC 2020 map is an interactive map of hard-to-count communities built for campaigns to increase participation in the United States’s 2020 census. Hard-to-count communities are populations that historically have a poor self-response rate: they return their census forms online or by mail at lower rates, requiring followup interviews by enumerators. The map shows response rates by census tract, and notes the demographics of each tract in terms of why the response rates might be low: lack of Internet access, or large numbers of people who are historically undercounted (poor, rural, people of colour). [NYPL]
Climate change means retreating glaciers, which exposes new islands, which means new maps. BBC News reports that five new islands off the northeast coast of Novaya Zemlya, an archipelago in the Russian Arctic that was the site of hundreds of nuclear tests, were mapped by a Russian expedition. The islands were discovered in satellite photos by then-student Marina Migunova, now a naval oceanographic engineer.
The winners—or as Daniel Huffman is calling them, the “final selection”—of the Monochrome Mapping Competition (now called MonoCarto 2019) have been announced. All 15 of them, with notes from the judges on why each of them was awesome.
The premise of the competition—a map made with any tint of a single colour of “ink”—was fascinating, and the resulting maps put paid to any assumption that you couldn’t produce a visually appealing or informative map with just one colour. The diversity of map styles is something to see as well.
The cone of uncertainty is a core feature of hurricane maps: it shows the potential routes a hurricane is likely to take (the path grows over time, as we’re less certain where the storm goes next). But it’s misinterpreted in ways that put people at risk. That’s the argument made by Alberto Cairo in an online infographic (and in print) in the New York Times last week: research reveals that people living along the edge of the cone are much less likely to prepare for the storm, even though the edge of the cone is one possible path for the centre of the storm—and the cone only covers 60 to 70 percent of the storm’s potential paths in any event.
CityLab editor Grace McKenzie has assembled a playlist of map songs, though in some cases these songs’ relevance may be limited to the title. Forty-eight songs in all (so far). Warning: “I’m the Map!” from Dora the Explorer is included. “Longitude and Latitude” by Glazer and Evans is not.
Earlier this year I told you about Barely Maps, the minimalist map project undertaken by Peter Gorman, who in a series of posters reduced maps to their most cryptic and abstract state. He’s been selling prints on Etsy, but now Peter has launched a Kickstarter campaign for the next phase of his project: a book that collects 100 of his minimalist maps, along with the stories behind their creation.
Peter sent me a proof copy of the book. The cover is as minimalist as you might expect from such a project. The maps are familiar if you’ve been following the Barely Maps project: here they take up an entire right-hand page, with a brief description on the facing page.
Peter is using offset printing to produce this book, which requires a 250-copy minimum print run. Supporting the Kickstarter starts at $39, which gets you one copy of the book and free U.S. shipping. Higher tiers add map prints to the cart. As I write this post, the Kickstarter is about 88 percent of the way to its $10,000 goal.
Other raw data sources include the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), fire activity data from which can be viewed here; and MODIS data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. For a live feed of MODIS data on the Amazon fires, see the MODIS Wildfire Dashboard.
Meanwhile, NASA’s Earth Observatory posted MODIS imagery of several Amazon fires, and had this curious statement that seemed to minimize the scale of the problem: “As of August 16, 2019, an analysis of NASA satellite data indicated that total fire activity across the Amazon basin this year has been close to the average in comparison to the past 15 years. […] Though activity appears to be above average in the states of Amazonas and Rondônia, it has so far appeared below average in Mato Grosso and Pará, according to estimates from the Global Fire Emissions Database, a research project that compiles and analyzes NASA data.”
A subsequent NASA Earth Observatory post seems to contradict the one I mentioned earlier, pointing to “a noticeable increase in large, intense, and persistent fires burning along major roads in the central Brazilian Amazon” which “are more consistent with land clearing than with regional drought” and noted fire detections “higher across the Brazilian Amazon” since 2010.
Contextualizing the amount of fires seems to be a recurring theme in the reporting: the number of fires are up sharply over last year, but close to the average when taking a longer view. It’s helped a lot of bad and insincere actors make it harder to get to the heart of what’s going on over there. They can’t, after all, deny the satellite imagery or the remote sensing: we can see the fires. We can detect the emissions of smoke, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide (1, 2, 3). We can map them. And those maps can help us understand what’s going on.
On the NGO front, InfoAmazonia has produced the above map comparing fires over the last 24 hours with historical fire data. (They have other maps on this subject as well.)
The Society of Cartographers posted a notice on Twitter announcing the formal dissolution of the Society after its upcoming (and now presumably final) Annual Summer School Conference. That conference will be held in conjunction with the British Cartographic Society’s Annual Conference on 11 and 12 September at the Ordnance Survey’s Southampton headquarters.
Apart from reactions like Kenneth Field’s, there is no other information about the Society’s dissolution available online, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s been discussion in members-only areas. What on earth happened? (Comments open.)