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Cartogr J. 2010 May 1;47(2):130-140.

Value-by-alpha maps: An alternative technique to the cartogram.

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1
GeoVISTA Center, Penn State University, 302 Walker Building, University Park, PA 16802.

Abstract

The cartogram, or value-by-area map, is a popular technique for cartographically representing social data. Such maps visually equalize a basemap prior to mapping a social variable by adjusting the size of each enumeration unit by a second, related variable. However, to scale the basemap units according to an equalizing variable, cartograms must distort the shape and/or topology of the original geography. Such compromises reduce the effectiveness of the visualization for elemental and general map-reading tasks. Here we describe a new kind of representation, termed a value-by-alpha map, which visually equalizes the basemap by adjusting the alpha channel, rather than the size, of each enumeration unit. Although not without its own limitations, the value-by-alpha map is able to circumvent the compromise inherent to the cartogram form, perfectly equalizing the basemap while preserving both shape and topology.

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