Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
A biweekly tour of the ever-expanding cartographic landscape.
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Orient yourself: Influenza strikes back
It’s that most virulent time of the year: Flu is officially “widespread” in 46 U.S. states, and emergency rooms are overwhelmed. As of the end of 2017, at least 211 people had died from the disease this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like sore throats and popsicles, disease and maps go hand in (well washed) hand. The 19th century British physician John Snow pioneered the fields of GIS and epidemiology with his famous map of cholera cases coagulating around water pumps in a London neighborhood. (The pumps turned out to be infected.) Check out a stylish 1960s update to Snow’s map, above.
Just how bad will this year’s flu bout be? Not everyone goes to the doctor when they feel sick, so officials can only estimate. The CDC judges flu cases by monitoring physician records for reports of influenza-like illnesses among patients. Below, our gif depicts nationwide flu activity since October, using CDC maps. The spread of that ugly clay color is the creep of “widespread” disease.
To help track and prevent disease, others have attempted to supplement CDC data through crowdsourcing: The University of Osnabrück in Germany at one point worked with IBM to couple Twitter data with CDC reports, and Flu Near You, an online app and map, asks users to self-report symptoms, which it analyzes and maps to reveal concentrations of the virus. Google famously used to approximate flu prevalence based on search trends.
Crowdsourcing hasn’t yet proven a lasting solution to gathering and communicating public health data, though. Why? Most of us aren’t great at diagnosing our own symptoms, real-time flu statistics can be misleading without context, and algorithms are flawed, too. Google’s flu tracking project ended with the search giant missing the peak of the 2013 flu season by 140 percent—an “epic failure,” according to Wired, that suggested the limits of big data as a social salve.
Despite all the reasons for skepticism, epidemiologists are still pursuing new ways of putting the “public” back in public health. To track how viruses spread, researchers at NYU have an ongoing study that involves citizen scientists self-reporting symptoms online and sending in nasal swab and saliva samples. Sounds slimy and promising.
Compass points: DREAMers at a crossroads
Since 2012, nearly 800,000 young immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids by undocumented families have been shielded against deportation by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. Now, their fate stands at a crossroads, with Congress, the White House, the Department of Justice, and district courts split on whether to eliminate the Obama-era protection.
On average, DACA recipients are better educated and more highly skilled that undocumented immigrants who are ineligible for the program. Many of them have always called the U.S. home. And studies show that they contribute billions to the national economy, especially in the populous urban states where the vast majority reside. For example, if all DACA workers were removed from the workforce in California—where about a quarter of them live—the powerhouse state could lose $11.6 billion annually, according to the Center for American Progress.
Above, a zoomed-in shot of a map by the University of Southern California’s Center for the Study of Immigrant Integration shows the GDP contributions of DACA workers in congressional districts around Los Angeles, one of the densest DACA hotspots. Here are more visualizations that put a face and place on the data.
Net de-neutralized: the likely losers of the FCC’s repeal of internet protections. ♦ End of the line: A crowdsourced atlas of abandoned railroad links. ♦ Beyond the “shithole”: the world mapped, Trump-style. ♦ Too damn high: Renter’s rights organizations are tracking nasty landlords. ♦ For safety’s sake: Colorado is getting serious about mapping aging underground gas pipes. ♦ Hey dude, where’s my gate? Apple Maps is layering on airport interiors to make travel less frenzied. ♦ Gerrymandering could get worse, not better: Here’s how. ♦ Forget the Oscars: The World Masters of Projection Mapping is finally underway.
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