Mapping Bird Flu

January 09, 2006

I have spent an awful lot of (relative) time writing about maps in this space over the last month, but this one really caught my eye.

Declan Butler has recently worked with the journal Nature to publish a map of the H5N1 avian influenza virus outbreaks over the last two years. He used some data from various government sources, an MS Access database, and the ever popular (astoundingly fun) Google Earth application.

This is why the new breed of online maps are such wonderful tools for creating understanding: With a little technical work (and perhaps a lot of fact-checking), you can create simple yet information-rich presentation of a pandemic that is affecting millions.

Good writeups of the new map can be found on the Nature website and at WorldChanging. (You can find details of the programming side on Declan's Blog.)

The trendiness of "mashups" is frustrating to me when I see it only being applied to giving superfluous but super-detailed information about movie times and local gas prices.

In this anticapitalist, curmudegonly spirit I appreciate journalist Glyn Moody's alternative description of Google Earth "conceptually simple scaffolding for other data to be brought together and displayed." As he points out in his bioinformatics/open source blog, this type of platform has incredible implications for the sharing of scientific resources. Like all open source concepts/applications, this has the greatest impact on science in the developing world, where resources remain scant.