As usual, the MIT media lab cranks out amazing stuff- Brandon M Anderson put together a fascinating infographic that maps every citizen recorded in the 2010 US census. The graphic itself is very compelling, especially when you adjust the scale, but what is also compelling is Anderson’s description of the process. Using GIS shapefiles, python, processing, Google Maps, and a 17 GB CSV file (!) Brandon was able to produce an incredibly dense graphic. Read more about his method here.
CNN featured this project on their what’s next blog and noted the dense population in the east part of the country compared to the west. This was attributed to a proximity to agriculture, but Dr. Adelamar Alcantara of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research here at the University of New Mexico would be quick to point out that there are other factors at play as well. According to Dr. Alcantara, the U.S. census is a fairly flawed system, based largely off of IRS tax returns that are validated by county census records- a system which can ignore low income people in poor counties or in areas without a similar infrastructure. Dr. Alcantara is developing a system that uses GIS to evaluate the number of housing units for the state, cross reference those records with birth and death certificate records, then evaluate the “gaps” in the addresses. A paper on the BBER’s work related to this subject is here.
While the Census Dotmap is an amazing example of describing immensely large amounts of data, making the data understandable should not only posit theories about trends and patterns but call to question the nature of the data to begin with. Can we understand a graphic when we cannot assess the information it represents?