[Editor's note: Zach Johnson promotes his Actionscript 3 class for producing non-continuous cartograms and gives background on why these are better (and easier to construct) than Gaster-Newman continuous cartograms.]
Fully contiguous cartograms have stretched and distorted borders but perfectly maintained topologies. Like the Gastner-Newman diffusion-based cartograms we see all over the place. Though all sorts of cartogram designs have been produced, those with perfect topology preservation (fully contiguous cartograms) receive the majority of academic and popular press attention.
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Judy Olson (Wisconsin Geography alum natch) wrote the only academic article to focus specifically on this cartogram symbology in 1976. She believed noncontiguous cartograms held three potential advantages over contiguous cartograms (I’ve three more below):
- “the empty areas, or gaps, between observation units are meaningful representations of discrepancies of values, these discrepancies generally being a major reason for constructing a cartogram”
- production of noncontiguous cartograms involves “only the discrete units for which information is available and only the lines which can be accurately relocated on the original map appear on the noncontiguous cartogram”
- because of perfect shape preservation, “recognition of the units represented is relatively uncomplicated for the reader”
Despite these inherent advantages (along with ease of production), all the early value-by-area cartograms I’ve seen maintain contiguity. Some took the radical step of abstracting features to geometric primitives, like Levasseur’s early French examples (which may not have been cartograms) and Erwin Raisz’s early American “rectangular statistical cartograms”. But in many ways the noncontiguous design is the more radical cartogram, as it actually breaks the basemap apart — rather than skewing shared borders it abandons them.
my [his] AS3 classes
Olson outlines a technique — the projector method — for manually producing such cartograms. A projector capable of precise numeric reduction/enlargement was required, but not much else, and accurate cartograms could be produced in minutes. A scaling factor was calculated for each enumeration unit, the projector was set to this value, and the projected borders were traced, keeping units centered on their original centers.
My [his] AS3 NoncontiguousCartogram class works similarly. It takes an array of objects containing geometry and attribute properties and creates a noncontiguous cartogram. I include methods for creating the input array from a shapefile/dbf combo, but using KML, WKT, or geoJSON representations wouldn’t be too hard. Methods are included for projecting this lat/long linework (to Lambert’s Conformal Conic projection at least). The NoncontiguousCartogram class draws the input geography, figures the area of each feature, and scales figures according to their density in the chosen thematic variable.
It’s all good/in ActionScript 3, so can be used in Flash or Flex. The zip distribution includes the following:
- the main NoncontiguousCartogram.as class
- two example applications and the data needed to run them
- utility classes, including some that make creating cartograms from shp/dbf input quite easy
- Edwin Van Rijkom’s SHP and DBF libraries, which are used to load the shapefiles in both of the included examples
- Keith Peters’ MinimalComps AS3 component library, for the components used in one of the examples
- Grant Skinner’s gTween class, which is required by the NoncontiguousCartogram class for tween transitions
In my thesis research last spring, noncontiguous cartograms performed quite well: subjects rated them highly on aesthetics and could locate and estimate the areas of features with relatively high accuracy. I would add the following to Olson’s list of noncontiguous cartogram advantages.
- Olson concentrates on the perfect shape preservation of noncontiguous cartograms. The form (well, those with units centered on the original enumeration unit centroids, as in Olson’s projector method) also perfectly preserves the location of the features on the resultant transformed cartogram. Not only are features easier to recognize, but locations within the transformed units can be accurately located as well (cities or mountain ranges from the original geography can be accurately plotted on the transformed cartogram).
- Because units are separate on the transformed cartogram, their figure-ground is increased and areas of features can therefore be more accurately estimated.
- Many cartogram designs (including most manual cartograms and the Gastner-Newman-produced cartograms) sacrifice some accuracy for shape recognition. This is a defensible tradeoff, especially as area estimation is notoriously inaccurate and nonlinear. Yet it’s a tradeoff that noncontigous cartograms need not make, as they can always perfectly represent the data with relative areas without sacrificing shape preservation.
Thus, noncontiguous cartograms seem to excel at the cartogram’s two main map-reading tasks: shape recognition and area estimation. This is mediated somewhat by the chief advantage of contiguous cartograms: compactness. Because no space is created between enumeration units, contiguous cartogram enumeration units can be larger than those on noncontiguous cartograms, all other things equal. The increased size on contiguous cartograms may improves their legibility.