Worldmapper: viewing the world in new ways

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Sandra Porter
Worldmapper is a web site with 366 maps of the world. These maps however, are not the kinds of maps you've seen in school, with every country shown by size. These maps are cartograms. It's a bit like seeing a cartoon version of a Thomas Friedman book. These maps present a whole new way of visualizing information about the world. In a cartogram, the size of each country or geographic region is drawn in proportion to some kind of variable. The variable could be population size, number of people who practice a certain religion, incidence of infant mortality, voting patterns, energy use, or lots of other things. For example, last week I posted a map showing the relative numbers of rabies deaths in different parts of the world.

© Copyright 2006 SASI Group (University of Sheffield) and Mark Newman (University of Michigan)

If you go to Worldmapper, you can get some really interesting pictures that show lot of amazing things. For example, you can see which countries have the largest proportion of children under age 15, at least in 2004. Italy, Spain, and Japan seem to be turning into countries of the elderly. Who would have guessed that Japan is such a large producer of nuclear power? Sadly, the proportion of illiterate young women isn't a surprise. Neither is the proportion of child laborers. Many items are a surprise, though. I wouldn't have guessed that insects and rats were such a big problem in China, relative to the rest of the world, or that volcano deaths would be such a large problem in South America. Neither would I have predicted that the average person in Thailand spends 2 hours commuting back and forth from work each day. I always thought Americans had long commutes. There's also a key where you can hold your mouse over a country to get the name. I highly recommend taking a look at Worldmapper, it's a little addictive, but eye-opening as well. Reference: Michael T. Gastner and M. E. J. Newman (2004) Diffusion-based method for producing density equalizing maps Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 101, 7499-7504.

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