Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
The Map as Persuader
Some maps would rather make a point than give directions.
Paul J. Mode is a longtime collector of "persuasive cartography." A collector of what now?
Here's a good definition: “A (persuasive) map should be designed to make some one point clear — and other points be left to other maps. (Students and readers) are befogged by the wealth of detail, all of it emphasized equally, in an ordinary map.” That quote, by English socialist mapmaker James F. Horrabin, can be found at the PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography, hosted by the Cornell University Library.
"Propaganda maps" is another term that has been used to describe the subject of Mode's collection. But persuasive cartography is a much more inclusive description of the hundreds of maps in the collection. Yes, there are wartime propaganda maps (from several wars; and from various sides), but also maps aiming to influence opinions and beliefs on matters as wide-ranging as slavery, suffragism, alcohol, marriage, religion, and imperialism.
The maps span several centuries and multiple continents, using a variety of ways and means to convey their message: satire and allegory, unusual projections, and striking graphics. They all share the trait suggested by Horrabin: Their primary aim is to send an ideological message, not convey geographic information. These maps are not here to show you around the house, but to sell it to you.
Here are some examples.
The American Pope
Gone are the days when Catholicism was America's favourite foreign menace. This cartoon therefore won't make much sense today — unless you imagine those robes on an ayatollah instead of a cardinal. Then the sense of outrage this map sought to convey might feel a bit more believable.
The cardinal casting his shadow over America is Francesco Satolli, appointed in 1893 as the first Papal Nuncio to the United States. In certain circles, that appointment raised fears that he would meddle in American domestic affairs, especially concerning education (hence all the "public school" flags fluttering in Satolli's shadow).
The editorial on the back of this map said that Satolli's appointment made it “just a little more impossible than ever for a man to be a good Catholic and a good American”.
This cartoon was first published in Puck Magazine on September 5, 1894.
China, Cake of Kings
When in doubt, throw in some stereotypes, ethnic and otherwise. The prototypical caricature of a Chinese man is a powerless onlooker while foreign powers carve up China. Great Britain is represented by the old crone, Queen Victoria, in a staring contest with the evil-looking Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. Seated on the right is another fine specimen of 19th-century European prejudice, a Japanese samurai — contemplating which piece of the pie he will want to slice off with his sword.
Only two persons look like they're nice enough to sit next to on the train: Russia, by way of its Czar Nicolas II, and Marianne, the personification of France. Marianne has her hand on the shoulder of Nicolas, her ally. The message: If China needs to be carved up, then best by France and Russia — they don't look ugly, evil and/or dangerous.
This cartoon first appeared in Le Petit Journal on 16 January 1898.
Who are the Plutocrats?
Popular protests against the 1 percenters seldom use the word plutocracy to describe the state of the world today. It has arguably never been more appropriate: It means "rule by wealth" instead of "rule by the people" (democracy). But the word was appropriated and poisoned by the Nazis, who liked to hurl it at the British and Americans as more venomous synonyms for their capitalist systems.
This leaflet from 1940 turns the tables on Nazi propaganda. The map shows the sumptuous retreats of fascism's fortunate few: Adolf Hitler's at Berchtesgaden, the Goebbels estate at Waldhof am Bogensee, Joachim von Ribbentrop's castle at Fuschl, and Hermann Göring's Karinhall near Berlin, among others.
In early 1940, the Royal Air Force dropped hundreds of thousands of these leaflets over the Ruhr Valley's working-class areas. The back reads: “You are told that you are fighting for German Socialism against the Plutocracies, yet while aggregate worker income in Germany has fallen by 11 percent and the cost of living has increased 10 percent, all Nazi leaders are living in elegant castles and country estates.”
This leaflet was produced by the Royal Air Force in 1940.
That Shrinking Feeling
It's hard to argue with a map, let alone with four of them, which is why this graphic illustration of Palestinians' loss of land from 1946 to 1999 is such a powerful and popular image.
Critics argue that the sequence misrepresents recent history — the 1947 partition plan shown on the second map was accepted by the Jews, but rejected by the Arabs; and no mention is made of the return by Israel of Sinai to Egypt. But in so doing, the map merely reflects Horrabin's point on persuasive cartography — it singles out the point it wants to clarify, leaving out other information that might muddy the waters.
The earliest recorded use of the map in print is in a 2003 book by the Rev. Timothy Biles, who attributes it to the UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The Sickness Spreads
The sense of dread generated by this map is the diametrical opposite of the Palestinian map. It's not shrinkage that's upsetting the balance, but expansion — of the Red Menace, to be exact.
In 42 short years, the Socialist/Communist Conspiracy has conquered one-third of the World, warns the title above four globes, all centered on the North Pole — the better to demonstrate the cancerous growth of communism. From a red dot in Moscow on Map I to the whole of the Russian Empire on Map II, spreading to China and Eastern Europe on Map III.
The menacing arrows on Map IV are aimed at the U.S., and if that isn't clear enough, there's this quote from Nikolai (sic) Lenin: “First we take Eastern Europe. Next the masses of Asia. Then we shall encircle that last bastion of capitalism, the United States. We shall not have to attack. It will fall like an overripe fruit into our hands”. The point of the maps: The Cuban revolution is part of the communist strategy plan to encircle and ultimately subject the U.S.
This map was included in Communist Methodology of Conquest, a 1966 pamphlet by Luis V. Manrara for the Truth About Cuba Committee.
All images taken from the PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Cartography at Cornell University; reproduced under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 License.
Strange Maps #735
Got a strange map? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
Are "humanized" pigs the future of medical research?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all new medicines to be tested in animals before use in people. Pigs make better medical research subjects than mice, because they are closer to humans in size, physiology and genetic makeup.
In recent years, our team at Iowa State University has found a way to make pigs an even closer stand-in for humans. We have successfully transferred components of the human immune system into pigs that lack a functional immune system. This breakthrough has the potential to accelerate medical research in many areas, including virus and vaccine research, as well as cancer and stem cell therapeutics.
Existing biomedical models
Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, or SCID, is a genetic condition that causes impaired development of the immune system. People can develop SCID, as dramatized in the 1976 movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble." Other animals can develop SCID, too, including mice.
Researchers in the 1980s recognized that SCID mice could be implanted with human immune cells for further study. Such mice are called “humanized" mice and have been optimized over the past 30 years to study many questions relevant to human health.
Mice are the most commonly used animal in biomedical research, but results from mice often do not translate well to human responses, thanks to differences in metabolism, size and divergent cell functions compared with people.
Nonhuman primates are also used for medical research and are certainly closer stand-ins for humans. But using them for this purpose raises numerous ethical considerations. With these concerns in mind, the National Institutes of Health retired most of its chimpanzees from biomedical research in 2013.
Alternative animal models are in demand.
Swine are a viable option for medical research because of their similarities to humans. And with their widespread commercial use, pigs are met with fewer ethical dilemmas than primates. Upwards of 100 million hogs are slaughtered each year for food in the U.S.
In 2012, groups at Iowa State University and Kansas State University, including Jack Dekkers, an expert in animal breeding and genetics, and Raymond Rowland, a specialist in animal diseases, serendipitously discovered a naturally occurring genetic mutation in pigs that caused SCID. We wondered if we could develop these pigs to create a new biomedical model.
Our group has worked for nearly a decade developing and optimizing SCID pigs for applications in biomedical research. In 2018, we achieved a twofold milestone when working with animal physiologist Jason Ross and his lab. Together we developed a more immunocompromised pig than the original SCID pig – and successfully humanized it, by transferring cultured human immune stem cells into the livers of developing piglets.
During early fetal development, immune cells develop within the liver, providing an opportunity to introduce human cells. We inject human immune stem cells into fetal pig livers using ultrasound imaging as a guide. As the pig fetus develops, the injected human immune stem cells begin to differentiate – or change into other kinds of cells – and spread through the pig's body. Once SCID piglets are born, we can detect human immune cells in their blood, liver, spleen and thymus gland. This humanization is what makes them so valuable for testing new medical treatments.
We have found that human ovarian tumors survive and grow in SCID pigs, giving us an opportunity to study ovarian cancer in a new way. Similarly, because human skin survives on SCID pigs, scientists may be able to develop new treatments for skin burns. Other research possibilities are numerous.
The ultraclean SCID pig biocontainment facility in Ames, Iowa. Adeline Boettcher, CC BY-SA
Pigs in a bubble
Since our pigs lack essential components of their immune system, they are extremely susceptible to infection and require special housing to help reduce exposure to pathogens.
SCID pigs are raised in bubble biocontainment facilities. Positive pressure rooms, which maintain a higher air pressure than the surrounding environment to keep pathogens out, are coupled with highly filtered air and water. All personnel are required to wear full personal protective equipment. We typically have anywhere from two to 15 SCID pigs and breeding animals at a given time. (Our breeding animals do not have SCID, but they are genetic carriers of the mutation, so their offspring may have SCID.)
As with any animal research, ethical considerations are always front and center. All our protocols are approved by Iowa State University's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee and are in accordance with The National Institutes of Health's Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
Every day, twice a day, our pigs are checked by expert caretakers who monitor their health status and provide engagement. We have veterinarians on call. If any pigs fall ill, and drug or antibiotic intervention does not improve their condition, the animals are humanely euthanized.
Our goal is to continue optimizing our humanized SCID pigs so they can be more readily available for stem cell therapy testing, as well as research in other areas, including cancer. We hope the development of the SCID pig model will pave the way for advancements in therapeutic testing, with the long-term goal of improving human patient outcomes.
Adeline Boettcher earned her research-based Ph.D. working on the SCID project in 2019.
Satellite imagery can help better predict volcanic eruptions by monitoring changes in surface temperature near volcanoes.
- A recent study used data collected by NASA satellites to conduct a statistical analysis of surface temperatures near volcanoes that erupted from 2002 to 2019.
- The results showed that surface temperatures near volcanoes gradually increased in the months and years prior to eruptions.
- The method was able to detect potential eruptions that were not anticipated by other volcano monitoring methods, such as eruptions in Japan in 2014 and Chile in 2015.
How can modern technology help warn us of impending volcanic eruptions?
One promising answer may lie in satellite imagery. In a recent study published in Nature Geoscience, researchers used infrared data collected by NASA satellites to study the conditions near volcanoes in the months and years before they erupted.
The results revealed a pattern: Prior to eruptions, an unusually large amount of heat had been escaping through soil near volcanoes. This diffusion of subterranean heat — which is a byproduct of "large-scale thermal unrest" — could potentially represent a warning sign of future eruptions.
Conceptual model of large-scale thermal unrestCredit: Girona et al.
For the study, the researchers conducted a statistical analysis of changes in surface temperature near volcanoes, using data collected over 16.5 years by NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. The results showed that eruptions tended to occur around the time when surface temperatures near the volcanoes peaked.
Eruptions were preceded by "subtle but significant long-term (years), large-scale (tens of square kilometres) increases in their radiant heat flux (up to ~1 °C in median radiant temperature)," the researchers wrote. After eruptions, surface temperatures reliably decreased, though the cool-down period took longer for bigger eruptions.
"Volcanoes can experience thermal unrest for several years before eruption," the researchers wrote. "This thermal unrest is dominated by a large-scale phenomenon operating over extensive areas of volcanic edifices, can be an early indicator of volcanic reactivation, can increase prior to different types of eruption and can be tracked through a statistical analysis of little-processed (that is, radiance or radiant temperature) satellite-based remote sensing data with high temporal resolution."
Temporal variations of target volcanoesCredit: Girona et al.
Although using satellites to monitor thermal unrest wouldn't enable scientists to make hyper-specific eruption predictions (like predicting the exact day), it could significantly improve prediction efforts. Seismologists and volcanologists currently use a range of techniques to forecast eruptions, including monitoring for gas emissions, ground deformation, and changes to nearby water channels, to name a few.
Still, none of these techniques have proven completely reliable, both because of the science and the practical barriers (e.g. funding) standing in the way of large-scale monitoring. In 2014, for example, Japan's Mount Ontake suddenly erupted, killing 63 people. It was the nation's deadliest eruption in nearly a century.
In the study, the researchers found that surface temperatures near Mount Ontake had been increasing in the two years prior to the eruption. To date, no other monitoring method has detected "well-defined" warning signs for the 2014 disaster, the researchers noted.
The researchers hope satellite-based infrared monitoring techniques, combined with existing methods, can improve prediction efforts for volcanic eruptions. Volcanic eruptions have killed about 2,000 people since 2000.
"Our findings can open new horizons to better constrain magma–hydrothermal interaction processes, especially when integrated with other datasets, allowing us to explore the thermal budget of volcanoes and anticipate eruptions that are very difficult to forecast through other geophysical/geochemical methods."