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Cartograms gone wrong

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#1
Hans van der Maarel

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In the hopes of sparking some interesting discussion...

 

The last few years have seen a surge in the number of cartograms being produced. There's software for them now that's relatively easy to use (Springtoad is one I've dabbled with). However, I think that they sometimes miss their goal.

 

For example, I can deal with this one:

tumblr_mq2dymVY4a1rasnq9o1_1280.jpg

(from http://mapsontheweb....age/56139022950)

 

I understand the message it's trying to communicate, no problems there. Not sure about the color choice, I think it would make more sense to reverse it, but that's a detail.

 

But this one, which I also came across yesterday, baffles me:

WorldLightningMap.jpg

(from http://www.viewsoftheworld.net/?p=3748)

 

It's a pretty picture, yes, but I can't help thinking they use a population cartogram "because they can". I have a very hard time getting any information out of this map and I am honestly wondering whether using small multiples wouldn't be an easier way to communicate the message (apart from the fact I'm not sure lightning strikes and population density have much to do with eachother).

 

I think the main problem I have with this one is that they're trying to illustrate the geographic relationship between two themes, while distorting the geography. Does anybody else share this feeling, or am I missing the point completely?


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#2
l.jegou

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It's a very good point you're making, not missing. The foremost aim of a map is to visualizae geographical relations. Cartograms are useful when they display boldly and legibly spatial relations, but the limit of legibility is easily reached.

 

When Anna Barford from the Department of Geography, University of Sheffield, and the Worldmapper project proposed an article to our journal, M@ppemonde, the editorial board sensed the need to publish alongside a reaction and commentaries. Sorry, it's in french : the paper, the reaction.

 

Recently, a french geographer, known for his use of cartograms, published a book on the idea that "normal" thematic maps are false, because they don't take into account the very disparate population densities of France. To summarize briefly his point, maps should be cartograms based on densities, to express the "real" geography, the percieved one.



#3
Daniel Huffman

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I think you are right on, Hans, and that's why I hate Newman-Gastner cartograms. In my observation, they're probably the most popular variety, because they're were easy to do automatically (there's a script for Arc that does them, I think). But they miss the entire point...a cartogram cannot work if people cannot recognize the geography. It no longer surprises/shocks/intrigues if we can't figure out where anything is and how much larger/smaller a place is than we expect. There's definitely a balance that needs to be struck. Good cartograms are still uncommon, I think. But they're worthwhile when done well.



#4
Ken Field

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The problem with maps, all maps, is that nothing is ever adequate enough to cover all requirements.  Cartograms emerged as a way of overcoming the limitations of other types of thematic map but their abstract nature causes other difficulties. They are certainly visually more startling which is why, in this age of so-called infographics and rapid production and consumption they are increasingly used.  Flick to a web page with a Gastner-Newman and someone is likely to hang around a touch longer than one with a standard choropleth. I happen to like cartograms but they are most effective for content that requires something a little 'edgey'. Sometimes people overlook the standard thematic map types in the search for something unique but I'd agree with Daniel that theire prevalence is losing some of that uniqueness.  Everything swings in and out of fashion too...cartograms one day, millions of dots another, hexagons...etc etc... For my money the key to a good cartogram is keeping it simple and not trying to make them do too much.  There's a continuum in mapping types that extends from the plain and boring to visually arresting. This is matched by other continuums based on functionality, ease of understanding, ease of construction etc...it's a complex soup.



#5
Hans van der Maarel

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Thanks for chiming in guys, good to know it's not me ;)  The ease-of-use of the Gastner-Newman cartograms certainly seems to have contributed to their popularity and ironically those are the ones I find the hardest to grasp :rolleyes:


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#6
rudy

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I'm with you Hans. The thunderstorms mapped to population density baffles me and seems pointless. Always go for the simple solution when possible. That may be a cartogram but in this case it definitely does not.



#7
Daniel Huffman

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I think this may simply be a case of making cartograms for the sake of showing off that they exist, rather than showing anything useful.

 

I'm with you Hans. The thunderstorms mapped to population density baffles me and seems pointless. Always go for the simple solution when possible. That may be a cartogram but in this case it definitely does not.



#8
frax

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A big problem with a lot of the world map cartograms (like the Worldmapper ones) is that they start with the already stunted Gall-Peters projection and then try to retain the topology with the shared borders. The top one you have as an example has disconnected the boundaries. When you try to retain the topology you get this crumpled up shapes where it is impossible to see the shape of the countries.

 

Here is a cartogram I did some time ago, where I disconnected the countries, and scaled them individually:


http://nordpil.com/g...untriesregions/


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