The University and the Vaccine

Brock University in St. Catherines, Ontario, just announced its Fall 2021 return-to-campus procedures. The decision that “vaccines will not be mandatory“, which is highlighted in the title of the announcement, is a welcome distinction from certain other universities’ approaches. For example, under the guise of “safety first”, Western University in London, Ontario, “mandates vaccinations for students in residence“, noting possible exemptions under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and the University of Toronto requires students to have at least the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in order to provide a “safe and welcoming residence experience” (no exceptions mentioned). Unfortunately, my university just announced a 180-degree turn from last week and followed its big sister across town to require vaccines for students living in residence on campus. Our spokesperson is quoted saying “This measure is necessary to support students’ safety, growth and development“.

Brock University – announcement of Fall 2021 return to campus procedures, https://brocku.ca/brock-news/2021/06/fall-update-planning-continues-for-return-to-campus-vaccines-will-not-be-mandatory/

Does a mandatory COVID-19 vaccine really provide a “safe and welcoming residence experience” and contribute to “safety, growth and development” of our students? It may indeed bestow a feeling of safety, which I argue is misconstrued as a consequence of persistent, possibly willful, ignorance of the science behind the vaccine trials and an outdated COVID-19 risk assessment.

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Science is Dead – Long Live “The” Science?

This year, politicians, public health officials, journalists, and even our Facebook friends are urging us to listen to “the” data, trust “the” evidence, and follow “the” science with respect to COVID-19. Yet, each of these groups feel entitled to select which data, evidence, and science they elevate to the royal rank of “the” data, evidence, and science. A quick reflection or a look at an encyclopedia (online or otherwise!) will reveal that science is a never-ending process of asking questions, making observations, structuring ideas, hypothesizing explanations, conducting experiments, and drawing preliminary conclusions that inevitably raise more questions to be researched. In complex systems and processes such as infectious disease spread, the data and evidence resulting from the scientific method, and the underlying models and theories, may never be conclusive, and as such it is foolish and misleading to speak of “the” one science guiding us through the corona crisis.

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Faces and Facets of the German-Speaking Corona Opposition

An account of events from March to September 2020

Owing to a set of personal circumstances, I was able to closely follow the first half year of Sars-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in Canada in comparison with Europe. Over there, Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria and German-speaking parts of Switzerland, produced some of the earliest skeptical voices who put the virus’s threat into perspective. Germany also has perhaps the broadest spectrum of critics of the government response measures globally. In the interest of open discourse and exchange of ideas, I offer this subjective overview of key actors and aspects of the corona opposition in the German-speaking world. I am focusing specifically on the different areas of expertise represented among the dissenting views.

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Issues of Scale in the Corona Crisis

The granularity at which you look at COVID-19 may determine your attitude towards Sars-CoV-2

Scale is one of the most fundamental concepts in Geography. My PhD student just completed her dissertation on “The Consequence of Scale: Process and Policy Implications of Composite Index Modelling Using the Conceptual Framework of GIS-MCDA”, in which she compares biodiversity indices computed at different scales within a city, for example smaller census tracts vs larger social planning neighbourhoods. In Geographic Information Systems (GIS), we usually work with aggregated data, and the scale of aggregation can range from census blocks through postcode areas and neighbourhoods/wards to cities, counties, provinces, and countries. Results of data analytics are known to depend on several aspects of scale, including the observation/measurement scale, at which data are collected; modelling scale, at which data are analyzed; and operational/policy scale(s), at which decisions are made and implemented.

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The Saga of False-Positive COVID-19 Tests

[Skip to second paragraph if you are not interested in the German context of the false positives issue.]

On June 5, 2020, OVALMedia’s Robert Cibis interviewed the Austrian microbiologist and infectious disease specialist Dr. Martin Haditsch about laboratory tests and specifically the PCR test that is used globally to detect the Sars-CoV-2 virus in a person. The interview [in German] broached the issue of false-positive test results in the context of a low-prevalence disease and imperfect tests. Two Youtube copies of the one-hour interview have a total of over 100,000 views at the time of writing. The next day, Swiss entrepreneur and Youtuber Samuel Eckert presented a 20-minute summary and explanation of the false-positive issue using an interactive Excel spreadsheet. His video currently boasts over 225,000 views with 15,000 likes. Possibly in response, the German Federal Minister of Health Jens Spahn, a banker by training, said in a brief interview contained in a tweet from public TV channel ARD on June 14 that if the COVID-19 prevalence continued to drop and testing was simultaneously expanded (as has been the case in many Western countries since mid-April) into the millions then you would eventually obtain more false-positive than correct-positive results.

Dr. Yaffe addressing the press, 30 July 2020, see full video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ed5cZFOrcZQ or view clip at http://gis.blog.ryerson.ca/files/2020/09/Ontario-announces-details_July-30_Trim2.mov
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Canadian News Coverage of #elxn43 – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Maps

Much like many economic, social, health, crime, and environmental data sets, election results have an important geospatial component. For the 2019 federal election, Canada was divided into 338 electoral districts, each of which is represented by a member of parliament. Consequently, thematic maps – usually representing the “first-past-the-post” winning party – are a typical part of news media coverage of the 43rd election. The following examples were found in select Canadian media outlets on the morning after the election.

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Geography – The Secret Sauce of Data Analytics

For GIS Day 2016, the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies joined forces with Environics Analytics, “Canada’s premier marketing and analytical services company”. This year’s Environics Analytics User Conference on November 16 attracted 675 data analysts from 350 organizations and featured 16 client presentations, numerous software demos, and one great party!

eauc2016-alliwitz-secret-sauce eauc2016-alliwitz-tweet-tps-ea-geo

The core role of Geography and location in data analytics was emphasized by many presenters. Environics Analytics founder and president, @statslady Jan Kestle, is quoted with identifying “Geography as the secret sauce” that integrates data for advanced analytics. The Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson University received shout-outs and accolades for training the next generation of data analysts through its BA in Geographic Analysis and MSA in Spatial Analysis programs.

eauc2016-ryersongeo-maps4 eauc2016-alliwitz-msa-students3

We joined the Environics Analytics User Conference with a GIS Day-themed display of geovisualization projects from the MSA cartography course and with a 15-year reunion to celebrate the 2001 class of MSA graduates, the first-ever group of students receiving a graduate degree from Ryerson University. Since then, over 300 students have obtained the MSA degree and joined the ranks of data analysts, who shape the regional economy, public services, and environment.

A timeline of all conference-related tweets can be found at https://storify.com/ClausRinner/geography-the-secret-sauce-of-data-analytics. Thank you, Allison Urowitz (@alliwitz), for the pertinent tweets reproduced above.

Geography at Ryerson – Your Social Innovation Powerhouse

Innovation in higher education and scholarly research has always been a hallmark of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at Ryerson. Recent faculty and student achievements underline our position as a social innovation powerhouse on campus.

In the competition for “RECODE at Ryerson University” grants, @RyersonGeo faculty are leading three of the eight successful applications. That is 37.5% of these social innovation projects across campus, a proportion even more impressive if you consider the competitive process with eight grants selected among 33 applications, a success rate of only 24%.

oswald_3d-printed-DEM-tweet With her RECODE grant, Dr. Claire Oswald, in collaboration with Dr. Claus Rinner and 3D printing startup company Think To Thing, plans to use “A 3D elevation model of Toronto watersheds to promote citizen science in urban hydrology and water resources”. Undergraduate students from our Geographic Analysis and Environment and Urban Sustainability programs will help with processing geospatial data to create a tangible model of the Don River watershed. The model is to be used for school and community outreach on pressing urban water issues.

shaker_roncesvalles-OSMDr. Richard Shaker received a RECODE grant for “A prototype for reaching sustainability through local business improvement initiatives: Roncesvalles Village”. In collaboration with the Roncesvalles Business Improvement Area in Toronto, Dr. Shaker’s team will develop metrics of sustainability of local restaurants to support sustainable community planning and management.

millward_citytrees-homepageThe goal of Dr. Andrew Millward’s proposal is to advance “The Citytrees Project: a tool of social innovation that engages people to work collectively and make our cities greener and more resilient”. RECODE funding will assist with forming new community partnerships and collecting tree data with GPS in collaboration with the Toronto Parks and Trees Foundation.

In addition to the faculty grants, our students were equally active and successful in applying for funding from the RECODE student competition.

Jennifer Fisher, a student in our BA in Environment and Urban Sustainability, received a grant to create “Soul Roots”, an urban agriculture project that employs “alternative farming practices to create large yield crops on a contaminated land site”. Working with Provincial and municipal partners in Toronto’s Parkdale community, the project also aims to demonstrate the social and economic impact of local food production.

Sarah Brigel, another student in the EUS program, is using RECODE funds to develop a pilot for her “Microbe-Hub Campus Compost Initiative”. The project aims to divert all organic waste from the Faculty of Arts’ Jorgenson Hall 14-storey building using a closed-loop vermicomposting system.

Another playing field for social innovation made @RyersonGeo is the Faculty of Arts’ SocialVentures Zone. Of the seven student-led social enterprises currently being incubated in the Zone, two were founded by our students, including Jennifer’s “Soul Roots”.

The other SocialVenturesZone project is Claire Stevenson-Blythe’s “Reciprocity”, an app-based platform to help people with signing up for local environmental volunteer opportunities. Claire’s enterprise is focused on engaging active citizenship and sharing solutions for the sustinability issues of our time.

Geography in its analytic, applied, and urban-focused form practiced at Ryerson is destined to inspire and train future social innovators and sustainability leaders. Stay tuned for more news!


Background on the RECODE at Ryerson University initiative: http://www.ryerson.ca/research/media/archive/2014/1106recode.html

List of student projects in the SocialVentures Zone: http://www.ryerson.ca/svz/projects/index.html

Looking for a secure, laid-back, and meaningful job in a growing field? Get into Geography!

This text was first posted as a guest contribution to WhyRyerson?, the Undergraduate Admissions and Recruitment blog at Ryerson University. Images were added after the initial posting.

Geography@Ryerson is different. Atlases, globes, and Google Maps are nice pastimes, but we are more interested in OpenStreetMap, CartoDB, and GeoDA. We map global flight paths, tweets, invasive species, and shoplifters. As a student in Geographic Analysis you will gain real-world, or rather real-work, experience during your studies. This degree is unique among Geo programs in Ontario, if not in Canada, for its career focus.

thestar-24May2013_rye-student-flight-paths

Mapping global flight paths.
(Source: Toronto Star, 24 May 2013
)

The BA in Geographic Analysis has a 40-year record of placing graduates in planning and decision-making jobs across the public and private sectors. Jobs include Data Technician, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist, Geospatial Analyst, Mapping Technologist, GIS Consultant, Environmental Analyst, Market Research Analyst, Real-Estate Analyst, Crime Analyst, and many more. You name the industry or government branch, we’ll tell you what Geographers are doing for them. And these jobs are secure: Many are within government, or, if they are in the private sector, they tend to be in units that make businesses more efficient (and therefore are essential themselves!).

And these are great jobs, too. In November 2013, GIS Specialists were characterized as a low-stress job by CNN Money/PayScale. There were half a million positions in the US, with an expected 22% growth over 10 years, and a median pay of US$53,400 per year. In their previous survey, Market Research Analysts had made the top-10, with over a quarter million jobs, over 40% expected growth, and a median pay of US$63,100. The 2010 survey described GIS Analyst as a stress-free job with a median salary of US$75,000.

cdnbusiness-23April2015_best-jobs-mapping-tech

Mapping Technologist, one of Canada’s best jobs!
(Source: Canadian Business, 23 April 2015)

Closer to home, in April 2015 Canadian Business magazine put Mapping Technologists among the top-10 of all jobs in Canada! They note that “The explosion of big data and the growing need for location-aware hardware and software has led to a boom in the field of mapping”. With a median salary of CA$68,640, a 25% salary growth, and a 20% increase in jobs over five years, “this class of technology workers will pave the way”. According to Service Canada, “Mapping and related technologists and technicians gather, analyze, interpret and use geospatial information for applications in natural resources, geology, environment and land use planning. […] They are employed by all levels of government, the armed forces, utilities, mapping, computer software, forestry, architectural, engineering and consulting firms”. Based on the excellent reputation of our program in the Toronto area, you can add the many jobs in the business, real-estate, social, health, and safety fields to this list!

google-img-search_gis-application-examples

Sample applications of Geographic Analysis
(Source: Google image search)

While you may find the perspective of a well-paid, laid-back job in a growing field attractive enough, there is more to being a Ryerson-trained Geographer. Your work will help make important decisions in society. This could be with the City of Toronto or a Provincial or Federal ministry, where you turn geospatial data into maps and decision support tools in fields such as environmental assessment, social policy, parks and forestry, waste management, immigration, crime prevention, natural resources management, utilities, transportation, … . Or, you may find yourself analysing socio-economic data and crime incidents for a regional police service in order to guide their enforcement officers, as well as crime prevention and community outreach activities. Many of our graduates work for major retail or real-estate companies determining the best branch locations, efficient delivery of products and services, or mapping and forecasting population and competitors. Or you could turn your expertise into a highly profitable free-lance GIS and mapping consultancy.

Geography is one of the broadest fields of study out there, which can be intimidating. Geography@Ryerson however is different, as we provide you with a “toolkit” to turn your interest in the City, the region, and the world, and your fascination with people and the environment, into a fulfilling, secure, laid-back, yet meaningful job!

About Quick-Service Mapping and Lines in the Sand

A walk on the beach along the still-frozen Georgian Bay has helped me sort some thoughts regarding fast food cartography, quick-service mapping, and naturally occurring vs. artificial lines in the sand … but first things first: This post refers to a debate about Twitter mapping and neo-cartography that is raging on blogs across the planet and will flare up in the Geoweb chat on Twitter this Tuesday, https://twitter.com/hashtag/geowebchat. Update: #geowebchat transcript prepared by Alan McConchie available at http://mappingmashups.net/2015/04/07/geowebchat-transcript-7-april-2015-burger-cartography/.

Lines in the sand (Photos: Claus Rinner)
Lines in the sand (Photos: Claus Rinner)

A few days ago, The Atlantic’s CityLab published an article entitled “Why Most Twitter Maps Can’t Be Trusted”, http://www.citylab.com/housing/2015/03/why-most-twitter-maps-cant-be-trusted/388586/. There have been other cautions that Twitter maps often just show where people live or work – and thus where they tweet. Along similar lines, a comic at xkcd illustrates how heatmaps of anything often just show population concentrations – “The business implications are clear!”, https://xkcd.com/1138/.

The CityLab article incited Andrew Hill, senior scientist at CartoDB and mapping instructor at New York University, to respond with a polemic “In defense of burger cartography”, http://andrewxhill.com/blog/2015/03/28/in-defense-of-burger-cartography/. In it, Hill replies to critics of novel map types by stating “The dogma of cartography is certain to be overturned by new discoveries, preferences, and norms from now until forever.” He likens the good people at CartoDB (an online map service) with some action movie characters who will move cartography beyond its “local optima [sic]”. Hill offers his personal label for the supposedly-new “exploratory playfulness with maps”: burger cartography.

Examples of CartoDB-based tweet maps in the media (Source: Taylor Shelton)
Examples of CartoDB-based tweet maps in the media (Source: Taylor Shelton)

The core portion of Hill’s post argues that CartoDB’s Twitter maps make big numbers such as 32 million tweets understandable, as in the example of an animated map of tweets during the 2014 soccer world cup final. I find nothing wrong with this point, as it does not contradict the cautions against wrong conclusions from Twitter maps. However, the rest of Hill’s post is written in such a derogatory tone that it has drawn a number of well-thought responses from other cartographers:

  • Kenneth Field, Senior Cartographic Product Engineer at Esri and an avid blogger and tweeter of all things cartography, provides a sharp, point-by-point rebuttal of Hill’s post – lamenting the “Needless lines in the sand”, http://cartonerd.blogspot.co.uk/2015/03/needless-lines-in-sand.html. The only point I disagree with is the title, since I think we actually do need some lines in the sand (see below).
  • James Cheshire, Lecturer and geospatial visualization expert at University College London, Department of Geography, supports “Burger Cartography”, http://spatial.ly/2015/03/burger-cartography/, but shows that “Hill’s characterisation of cartography … is just wrong”.
  • Taylor Shelton, “pseudopositivist geographer”, PhD candidate at Clark University, and co-author of the study that triggered this debate, writes “In defense of map critique”, https://medium.com/@kyjts/in-defense-of-map-critique-ddef3d5e87d5. Shelton reveals Hill’s oversimplification by pointing to the need to consider context when interpreting maps, and to the “plenty of other ways that we can make maps of geotagged tweets without just ‘letting the data speak for themselves’.”

Extending the fast food metaphor, CartoDB can be described as a quick-service mapping platform – an amazing one at that, which is very popular with our students (more on that in a future post). I am pretty sure that CartoDB’s designers and developers generally respect cartographic design guidelines, and in fact have benefited commercially from implementing them. However, most of us do not live from fast food (= CartoDB, MapBox, Google Maps) alone. We either cook at home (e.g., R with ggplot2, QGIS; see my previous post on recent Twitter mapping projects by students) or treat ourselves to higher-end cuisine (e.g., ArcMap, MapInfo, MAPublisher), if we can afford it.

I fully expect that new mapping pathways, such as online public access to data and maps, crowdmapping, and cloud-based software-as-a-service, entail novel map uses, to which some existing cartographic principles will not apply. But dear Andrew Hill, this is a natural evolution of cartography, not a “goodbye old world”! Where the established guidelines are not applicable, we will need new ones – surely CartoDB developers and CartoDB users will be at the forefront of making these welcome contributions to cartography.

MacEachren's Some Truth with Maps (Source: Amazon.com)
MacEachren’s Some Truth with Maps (Source: Amazon.com)

While I did not find many naturally occurring lines in the Georgian Bay sand this afternoon, I certainly think society needs to draw lines, including those that distinguish professional expertise from do-it-yourselfism. I trust trained map-makers (such as our Geographic Analysis and Spatial Analysis graduates!) to make maps that work and are as truthful as possible. We have a professional interest in critically assessing developments in GIS and mapping technologies and taking them up where suitable. The lines in the sand will be shifting, but to me they will continue to exist: separating professional and DIY cartographers, mapping for presentation of analysis results vs. exploratory playing with maps, quantitative maps vis-a-vis the map as a story … Of course, lines in the sand are pretty easy to cross, too!