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Each map is worth a thousand pictures
The Data Atlas of the World specialises in simple yet revealing maps of the world.
- Few simple things are as expressive as a well-crafted cartogram.
- The Data Atlas of the World provides a simple overview of complex data.
- Based on neutral datasets, this growing collection offers context without bias.
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. And a map? If it's a good one: at least a thousand pictures. Few simple things are as immediately expressive as a well-crafted cartogram – a map adapted to demonstrate the range of a certain dataset.
For some good examples, head over to the Data Atlas of the World, a growing collection of world maps, each revealing at a single glance the state of the planet, for such aspects as the population density, the distribution of religion, the level of corruption, variations in life expectancy and GDP, and many other parameters.
Here are a few examples:
What if the best cartographic projection is not a map but a cartogram instead?
Image courtesy of Carrie Osgood / Data Atlas of the World
Wait a minute, do we need a special map to show us how big the world's countries are? Don't our regular maps do a good enough job? Actually… No.
The earth is a globe – almost everyone is on board with that (see #1017). That's a three-dimensional object – one dimension more than your standard, flat map. Ergo: any cartographic projection of a globe onto a map will lead to some distortion of geographic fact.
And the Mercator projection, still popular after all these centuries, will do so more than most – especially towards the north and south poles. Check out #954, an earlier post showing you how to drag and drop whole countries on top of each other to get a sense of their actual sizes.
However, this map neatly solves the problem of the missing dimension. It turns each country into a circle corresponding to its geographic size – without the distortive effect of cartographic projection.
Russia clearly is the world's largest country, but not as large as 'Mercator Russia'. The other geographic giants stand out immediately: Canada, the US, Brazil, China and Australia – curiously, all just about of equal size.
Sprinkled across most continents are mid-sized nations like Argentina, DR Congo and India. Only Europe consists entirely of countries that are either relatively small – yes, that includes you, France, UK and Germany – or positively tiny.
Territorial giants can be population mini-mes, and vice versa.
Image courtesy of Carrie Osgood / Data Atlas of the World
Isn't it curious that Argentina and India are in the same geographic size category? Because their population sizes almost couldn't be farther apart: India has 1.4 billion inhabitants, give or take a few million. Argentina only has about 45 million. That's one thirty-first of India's population!
This map reflects that difference. The dataset powering the cartogram isn't area, but population. And it's a whole different world.
A geographic mini-me like Bangladesh now rivals a territorial giant like Russia for size. (In fact, there are now considerably more Bangladeshi than Russians: 165 vs. 146 million). As mentioned, India blows Argentina away. And China is the biggest cheese wheel on this map, about 50 million inhabitants ahead of India – for now.
Canada and Australia, so visible on the previous map, have shrivelled away – totally overshadowed by their respective neighbors, the US and Indonesia. Nigeria is Africa's population superstar, while it's now more obvious which are the so-called Big Five countries in western Europe: the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy.
Emission levels are a crude indication of economic development – and a more acute one of environmental damage.
Image courtesy of Carrie Osgood / Data Atlas of the World
Here's another way the global cookie crumbles: Carbon dioxide emissions. As a by-product of industrialisation, it's a crude measure of a country's economic maturity.
But as a greenhouse gas, CO2 contributes to climate change. Most countries have agreed to cut back their emissions. In virtual unanimity, the world's countries in 2016 decided to reduce their CO2 emissions.
As this map shows, they've got their work cut out for them. If we look at CO2 emissions in absolute terms, China again leads the world, with the US and India in second and third place.
Put together, Europe's various states put the continent firmly on the world map, with major contributions by Russia and Germany.
Africa's CO2 emissions are negligible by comparison, except for South Africa, the continent's most industrialised economy. In Latin America, only Mexico and Brazil belch out CO2 in world-class quantities.
The emissions of the world's most advanced economies have to start coming down quickly – as per the 2016 Paris Agreement. In the first place, to avoid overheating the planet.
But by extension, the more sustainable methods of energy generation now being developed will also give developing economies a chance to catch up without frying the planet. The alternative? Just imagine each of those circles in Africa swelling to European size. Then we might as well start packing our bags for Antarctica (see #842).
Strange Maps #1022
These and other samples are free to view. More (and more detailed) maps with country labels and data specifics are available behind the paywall.
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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- The World's Data Holes, Quantified - Big Think ›
A Harvard professor's study discovers the worst year to be alive.
- Harvard professor Michael McCormick argues the worst year to be alive was 536 AD.
- The year was terrible due to cataclysmic eruptions that blocked out the sun and the spread of the plague.
- 536 ushered in the coldest decade in thousands of years and started a century of economic devastation.
The past year has been nothing but the worst in the lives of many people around the globe. A rampaging pandemic, dangerous political instability, weather catastrophes, and a profound change in lifestyle that most have never experienced or imagined.
But was it the worst year ever?
Nope. Not even close. In the eyes of the historian and archaeologist Michael McCormick, the absolute "worst year to be alive" was 536.
Why was 536 so bad? You could certainly argue that 1918, the last year of World War I when the Spanish Flu killed up to 100 million people around the world, was a terrible year by all accounts. 1349 could also be considered on this morbid list as the year when the Black Death wiped out half of Europe, with up to 20 million dead from the plague. Most of the years of World War II could probably lay claim to the "worst year" title as well. But 536 was in a category of its own, argues the historian.
It all began with an eruption...
According to McCormick, Professor of Medieval History at Harvard University, 536 was the precursor year to one of the worst periods of human history. It featured a volcanic eruption early in the year that took place in Iceland, as established by a study of a Swiss glacier carried out by McCormick and the glaciologist Paul Mayewski from the Climate Change Institute of The University of Maine (UM) in Orono.
The ash spewed out by the volcano likely led to a fog that brought an 18-month-long stretch of daytime darkness across Europe, the Middle East, and portions of Asia. As wrote the Byzantine historian Procopius, "For the sun gave forth its light without brightness, like the moon, during the whole year." He also recounted that it looked like the sun was always in eclipse.
Cassiodorus, a Roman politician of that time, wrote that the sun had a "bluish" color, the moon had no luster, and "seasons seem to be all jumbled up together." What's even creepier, he described, "We marvel to see no shadows of our bodies at noon."
...that led to famine...
The dark days also brought a period of coldness, with summer temperatures falling by 1.5° C. to 2.5° C. This started the coldest decade in the past 2300 years, reports Science, leading to the devastation of crops and worldwide hunger.
...and the fall of an empire
In 541, the bubonic plague added considerably to the world's misery. Spreading from the Roman port of Pelusium in Egypt, the so-called Plague of Justinian caused the deaths of up to one half of the population of the eastern Roman Empire. This, in turn, sped up its eventual collapse, writes McCormick.
Between the environmental cataclysms, with massive volcanic eruptions also in 540 and 547, and the devastation brought on by the plague, Europe was in for an economic downturn for nearly all of the next century, until 640 when silver mining gave it a boost.
Was that the worst time in history?
Of course, the absolute worst time in history depends on who you were and where you lived.
Native Americans can easily point to 1520, when smallpox, brought over by the Spanish, killed millions of indigenous people. By 1600, up to 90 percent of the population of the Americas (about 55 million people) was wiped out by various European pathogens.
Like all things, the grisly title of "worst year ever" comes down to historical perspective.
A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.
- It's long been suspected that sharks navigate the oceans using Earth's magnetic field.
- Sharks are, however, difficult to experiment with.
- Using magnetism, marine biologists figured out a clever way to fool sharks into thinking they're somewhere that they're not.
For some time, scientists have suspected that sharks belong among the growing number of animals known to navigate using Earth's magnetic field. Testing anything with a shark, though, requires some care.
The key was selecting the right candidate. Keller and his colleagues chose the bonnethead shark, Sphyrna tiburo, a small critter that summers at Turkey Point Shoal off the coast of the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory with which Keller is affiliated.
Bonnetheads elsewhere have been known to complete 620-mile roundtrip migrations. As the lab's Dean Grubbs puts it, "That's not bad for a shark that is only two to three feet long. The question is how do they find their way back to that same estuary year after year." There's a report of a great white shark migrating between two locations, one in South Africa and another in Australia, year after year.
The research is published in Current Biology.
Keller and his team rounded up 20 local juvenile bonnetheads and transported them into a holding tank at the marine lab. For the tests, the researchers simulated three real-world magnetic fields. As the various magnetic fields were activated, the sharks' movements were captured by GoPro cameras and their average swimming orientations calculated by software.
The first simulation, serving as a control, mimicked the magnetic field of the nearby shoal from which the sharks had been captured. When this field was activated, the sharks essentially acted like they were "home," just swimming around as they do.
A second field was the magnetic equivalent of a location 600 kilometers south of the lab within the Gulf of Mexico. When this field was activated, the sharks, apparently mistaking themselves for being far south in the Gulf, began swimming northward toward the shoal.
The opposite occurred with a field standing in for a location in continental North America 600 km north of their home shoal — the sharks began swimming southward.
"For 50 years," says Keller, "scientists have hypothesized that sharks use the magnetic field as a navigational aid. This theory has been so popular because sharks, skates, and rays have been shown to be very sensitive to magnetic fields. They have also been trained to react to unique geomagnetic signatures, so we know they are capable of detecting and reacting to variation in the magnetic field."
His team's experiments confirm what's long been suspected, Keller says: "Sharks use map-like information from the geomagnetic field as a navigational aid. This ability is useful for navigation and possibly maintaining population structure."
A machine learning system lets visitors at a Kandinsky exhibition hear the artwork.
Have you ever heard colors?
As part of a new exhibition, the worlds of culture and technology collide, bringing sound to the colors of abstract art pioneer Wassily Kandinsky.
Kandinsky had synesthesia, where looking at colors and shapes causes some with the condition to hear associated sounds. With the help of machine learning, virtual visitors to the Sounds Like Kandinsky exhibition, a partnership project by Centre Pompidou in Paris and Google Arts & Culture, can have an aural experience of his art.
An eye for music
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his painting. Seeing yellow summoned up trumpets, evoking emotions like cheekiness; reds produced violins portraying restlessness; while organs representing heavenliness he associated with blues, according to the exhibition notes.
Virtual visitors are invited to take part in an experiment called Play a Kandinsky, which allows them to see and hear the world through the artist's eyes.
Kandinsky's synesthesia is thought to have heavily influenced his 1925 painting Yellow, Red, Blue.Image: Guillaume Piolle/Wikimedia Commons
In 1925, the artist's masterpiece, "Yellow, Red, Blue", broke new ground in the world of abstract art, guiding the viewer from left to right with shifting shapes and shades. Almost a century after it was painted, Google's interactive tool lets visitors click different parts of the artwork to journey through the artist's description of the colors, associated sounds and moods that inspired the work.
But Google's new toy is not the only tool developed to enhance the artistic experience.
Artist Neil Harbisson has developed an artificial way to emulate Kandinsky by turning colors into sounds. He has a rare form of color blindness and sees the world in greyscale. But a smart antenna attached to his head translates dominant colors into musical notes, creating a real-world soundtrack of what's in front of him. The invention could open up a new world for people who are color blind.
A new study suggests that private prisons hold prisoners for a longer period of time, wasting the cost savings that private prisons are supposed to provide over public ones.