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Visualizing the Presence of Absence and Viral Maps: Challenges at the Intersections of Cartographic Design and Spatial Data Science


Event Summary

New forms of geographic data and spatial analysis are prompting us to engage with increasingly complex problem domains. While there remain plenty of use cases in which traditional approaches to spatial science can solve important problems, we are increasingly faced with situations in which our methods are not tractable without drastically reducing (or ignoring) contextual information, real-world variability, and the socio-cultural factors in which our information is produced, consumed, and acted upon. Quite a lot of recent work has focused on improving technology and empirical methods to handle massive streams of spatial data. These advances may help us establish basic facts, but on their own they are not capable of telling the complex stories we need to tell with maps. In cartography, the creative elements of art and design (and their history) have always been present, but they receive relatively little attention compared to the technological and analytical aspects that sometimes lend themselves more readily to empirical research.

At this lecture, sponsored by the Visualization for Understanding and Exploration project (a partnership between the Neubauer Collegium and the Research Computing Center in the Office of Research and National Laboratories at the University of Chicago), geovisualization expert Anthony Robinson presented two examples that highlighted the potential for cartographic design approaches to advance ongoing work in spatial data science. In the first example, he described the challenges presented by missing data and the need to develop geovisualizations that help reveal the presence of absence. Next, he showed how attempts to analyze maps and disinformation in viral social media is made possible by bringing together computational and cartographic approaches. The talk concluded with proposals for new research that grow from these experiments at the edges of contemporary cartographic science.

About the Speaker

Anthony C. Robinson is an Associate Professor of Geography and Director of Online Geospatial Education Programs at Penn State University. He is also an Assistant Director for the GeoVISTA Center in the Department of Geography. Robinson serves as the Co-Chair of the International Cartographic Association Commission on Visual Analytics and has recently served as the President of the North American Cartographic Information Society. His research focuses broadly on designing and evaluating geovisualization tools to improve geographic information utility and usability.