Scary Research to Share in the Dark: A Halloween-Themed Roundup

If you’re anything like us here in the Scholarly Commons, the day you’ve been waiting for is finally here. It’s time to put on a costume, eat too much candy, and celebrate all things spooky. That’s right, folks. It’s Halloween and we couldn’t be happier!

Man in all black with a jack o' lantern mask dancing in front of a green screen cemetery

If you’ve been keeping up with our Twitter (@ScholCommons) this month, you’ve noticed we’ve been sharing some ghoulish graphs and other scary scholarship. To keep the holiday spirit(s) high, I wanted to use this week’s blog post to gather up all our favorites.

First up, check out the most haunted cities in the US on The Next Web, which includes some graphs but also a heat map of the most haunted areas in the country. Which region do you think has the most ghosts?

If you’re more interested in what’s happening on across the pond, we’ve got you covered. Click on this project to see just how scary ArcGIS story maps can be.

https://twitter.com/ScholCommons/status/1187058855282462721

And while ghosts may be cool, we all know the best Halloween characters are all witches. Check out this fascinating project from The University of Edinburgh that explores real, historic witch hunts in Scotland.

The next project we want to show you might be one of the scariest. I was absolutely horrified to find out that Illinois’ most popular Halloween candy is Jolly Ranchers. If you’re expecting trick-or-treaters tonight, please think of the children and reconsider your candy offerings.

Now that we’ve share the most macabre maps around, let’s shift our focus to the future. Nathan Yau uses data to predict when your death will occur. And if this isn’t enough to terrify you, try his tool to predict how you’ll die.

Finally, if you’re looking for some cooking help from an AI or a Great Old One, check out this neural network dubbed “Cooking with Cthulhu.”

Do you have any favorite Halloween-themed research projects? If so, please share it with us here or on Twitter. And if you’re interested in doing your own deadly digital scholarship, feel free to reach out to the Scholarly Commons to learn how to get started or get help on your current work. Remember, in the words everyone’s favorite two-faced mayor…

A clip of the Mayor from Nightmare Before Christmas saying There's only 365 days left until next Halloween

Open for Whom? Open Access Week 2019

Open Access Week is upon us and this year’s theme, “Open for Whom?” has us investigating how open access benefits the student population here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. According to the Open Access Week official blog, this theme is meant to start a conversation on “whose interests are being prioritized in the actions we take and the platforms we support” towards open access. They raise an important question: Are we supporting not only open access but also equitable participation in research communication?

To explore this question on our campus, on Monday morning, we set out on an initiative to see how much our students are paying for textbooks this semester and asked how free, open textbooks would help them. How might having access to open educational resources such as textbooks help our student body participate in research communication and the academic community of the University?

At the four major libraries across campus, posters were set up for students to anonymously indicate how much money they have spent on textbooks this semester. They did this by placing a sticker dot on the poster that best fit their expense range, as pictured below. Alongside each poster was a whiteboard with an open question that students could answer: “How would free, open textbooks help you?”

Grainger Engineering Library "How much did you spend on textbooks this semester?" Results

Grainger Engineering Library Results

By Tuesday afternoon these boards were filling up with answers from students. While this was an open board to post their thoughts, of course, we had some humorous answers including: “More money for coffee, “I would cry less,” and “More McChicken.” However, despite the occasional joke, the majority of the answers focused on saving money. Many students commented on the tremendous cost of higher education and not only the high prices of textbooks but the additional costs of supplemental online workbooks provided by Chegg, WebAssign, or McGraw Hill – Connect. Students agreed that textbooks as resources for their education should be free and available. A worrying result of these discussion boards was students sharing the ways in which they illegally access textbooks in lieu of purchasing them; many sharing links to illegitimate websites.

Comments on the discussion board at Grainger Engineering Library

Comments on the discussion board at Grainger Engineering Library

Comments on the question "How would free, open textbooks help you?" in the Undergraduate Library

Comments on discussion board at the Undergraduate Library

Comments on the question "How would free, open textbooks help you?" in the Main Library

Comments on discussion board at the Main Library

So, open for whom? Open Access Resources (OER) offer a more affordable option for students and educators to access a quality educational experience. The Open Textbook Library describes open access textbooks as “funded, published, and licensed to be freely used, adapted, and distributed” and open for everyone’s use. Higher education institutions are gearing towards OER instead of requiring traditional textbooks and for students who are choosing between paying rent or purchasing textbooks, this can be life-changing.

Learn more about Open Educational Resources and how to find, evaluate, use and adapt OER materials for your needs.

What are you thoughts?

 

Open Access Textbook Resources

OER Commons – Open Textbooks

Punctum Books

A Brief Explanation of GitHub for Non-Software-Developers

GitHub is a platform mostly used by software developers for collaborative work. You might be thinking “I’m not a software developer, what does this have to do with me?” Don’t go anywhere! In this post I explain what GitHub is and how it can be applied to collaborative writing for non-programmers. Who knows, GitHub might become your new best friend.

Gif of a cat typing

You don’t need to be a computer wiz to get Git.

Picture this: you and some colleagues have similar research interests and want to collaborate on a paper. You have divided the writing work to allow each of you to work on a different element of the paper. Using a cloud platform like Google Docs or Microsoft Word online you compile your work, but things start to get messy. Edits are made on the document and you are unsure who made them or why. Elements get deleted and you do not know how to retrieve your previous work. You have multiple files saved on your computer with names like “researchpaper1.dox”, “researchpaper1 with edits.dox” and “research paper1 with new edits.dox”. Managing your own work is hard enough but when collaborators are added to the mix it just becomes unmanageable. After a never ending reply-all email chain and what felt like the longest meeting of all time, you and your colleagues are finally on the same page about the writing and editing of your paper. It just makes you think, there has got to be a better way to do this. Issues with collaboration are not exclusive to writing, they happen all the time in programming, which is why software-developers came up with version control systems like Git and GitHub.

Gif of Spongebob running around an office on fire with paper and filing cabinets on the floor

Managing versions of your work can be stressful. Don’t panic because GitHub can help.

GitHub allows developers to work together through branching and merging. Branching is the process by which the original file or source code is duplicated into clone files. These clones contain all the elements already in the original file and can be worked in independently. Developers use these clones to write and test code before combining it with the original code. Once their version of the code is ready they integrate or “push” it into the source code in a process called merging. Then, other members of the team are alerted of these changes and can “pull” the merged code from the source code into their respective clones. Additionally, every version of the project is saved after changes are made, allowing users to consult previous versions. Every version of your project is saved with with descriptions of what changes were made in that particular version, these are called commits. Now, this is a simplified explanation of what GitHub does but my hope is that you now understand GitHub’s applications because what I am about to say next might blow your mind: GitHub is not just for programmers! You do not need to know any coding to work with GitHub. After all, code and written language are very similar.

Even if you cannot write a single line of code, GitHub can be incredibly useful for a variety of reasons:
1. It allows you to electronically backup your work for free.
2. All the different versions of your work are saved separately, allowing you to look back at previous edits.
3. It alerts all collaborators when a change is made and they can merge that change into their own versions of the text.
4. It allows you to write using plain text, something commonly requested by publishers.

Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far into the article you’re thinking, “This sounds great, let’s get started!” For more information on using GitHub you can consult the Library’s guide on GitHub or follow the step by step instructions on GitHub’s Hello-World Guide.

Gif of man saying "check it out" and pointing to the right.

There are many resources on getting started with GitHub. Check them out!

Here are some links to what others have said about using GitHub for non-programmers:

Featured Resource: BTAA Geoportal

We at the University of Illinois are lucky to have a library that offers access to more journals and databases than any one person could ever hope to make their way though. The downside of this much access, however, is that it can be easy for resources to get lost in the weeds. For the typical student, once you are familiar with a few databases or methods of searching for information, you tend to not seek out more unless you absolutely need to.

This week, we wanted to fight back against that tendency just a little bit, by introducing you to a database which many readers may not have heard of before but contains a veritable treasure trove of useful geographical information, the Big 10 Academic Alliance Geoportal.

This resource is a compilation of geospatial content from the 12 universities that make up the BTAA. Types of content available include maps (many of which are historic), aerial imagery, and geospatial data. Researchers with a specific need for one of those can easily navigate from the Geoportal homepage to a more specific resource page by selecting the type of information they are looking for here:

A screenshot from the BTAA Geoportal, displaying icons to click on for "Geospatial Data," "Maps," and "Aerial Imagery."

Alternatively, if you don’t particularly care about the type of data you find but rather are looking for data in a particular region, you can use the map on the left side of the display to easily zoom in to a particular part of the world and see what maps and other resources are available.

A screenshot from the BTAA Geoportal showing a world map with numbers in orange, yellow, and green circles scattered around the map.

The numbers on the map represent the number of maps or other data in the Geoportal localized in each rough region of the world, for example, there are 310 maps for Europe, and 14 maps for the Atlantic Ocean. As you zoom in on the map, your options get more specific, and the numbers break down to smaller geographic regions: 

A close-up of Europe on the same map as above, showing that the one "310" circle on the world map is now divided into many smaller numbered circles around the continent.

When the map is zoomed in close enough that there is only one piece of data for a particular area, the circled numbers are replaced with a blue location icon, such as the ones displayed over Iceland, Sweden, and the Russia-Finland border above. Clicking on one of these icons will take you to a page with the specific image or data source represented on the map. For example, the icon over Iceland takes us to the following page:

A screenshot from the BTAA Geoportal showing a historic map of Iceland with some metadata below.

Information is provided about what type of resource you’re looking at, who created it, what time period it is from, as well as which BTAA member institution uploaded the map (in this case, the University of Minnesota). 

Other tools on the home page, including a search bar and lists of places and subjects represented in the Geoportal, mean that no matter what point you’re starting from you should have no problem finding the data you need!

The Geoportal also maintains a blog with news, featured items and more, so be sure to check it out and keep up-to-date on all things geospatial!

Do you have questions about using the Geoportal, or finding other geospatial data? Stop by the Scholarly Commons or shoot us an email at sc@library.illinois.edu, we’ll be happy to help you!

Exploring Data Visualization #15

In this monthly series, I share a combination of cool data visualizations, useful tools and resources, and other visualization miscellany. The field of data visualization is full of experts who publish insights in books and on blogs, and I’ll be using this series to introduce you to a few of them. You can find previous posts by looking at the Exploring Data Visualization tag.

Which milk has the smallest impact on the planet?

Climate change impacts each of us in direct and indirect ways. Mitigating your personal carbon footprint is an important way to address climate change for many people, but often people are unsure how to make choices that benefit the climate. Daniela Haake from Datawrapper took a close look at how her choice to have milk in her coffee was damaging or benefiting the planet and it turns out things aren’t looking great for café con leche. The chart Haake published, created using data from Dr. Joseph Poore, compares the carbon emissions, land use, and water use of milk and the top 4 milk alternatives.

A chart comparing the carbon emissions, land use, and water use of milk and the top 4 milk alternatives

Soy milk has the lowest overall impact on carbon emissions, land use, and water use.

Here’s Who Owns the Most Land in America

“The 100 largest owners of private property in the U.S., newcomers and old-timers together, have 40 million acres, or approximately 2% of the country’s land mass,” Bloomberg News reports. The people who own this land are the richest people in the country, and their wealth has grown significantly over the last 10 years. Bloomberg created a map that demonstrates where the land these people own is located. Compared to the rest of the country, the amount of land owned by these people looks relatively small—could Bloomberg have presented more information about why it is significant that these people own land in these areas? And about why they own so much land?

A map of the continental United States with the land owned by the 10 largest owners of private property highlighted

This image shows only the land owned by the top 10 landowners.

How to Get Better at Embracing Unknowns

Representing our uncertainty in data can be difficult to do clearly and well. In Scientific American this month, Jessica Hullman analyzed different methods of representing uncertainty for their clarity and effectiveness. While there may be no perfect way to represent uncertainty in your data viz, Hullman argues that “the least effective way to present uncertainty is to not show it at all.” Take a look at Hullman’s different ways to represent uncertainty and see if any might work for your next project!

A gif showing two methods of demonstrating uncertainty in data visualizations through animation

Animated charts make uncertainty impossible to ignore

I hope you enjoyed this data visualization news! If you have any data visualization questions, please feel free to email the Scholarly Commons.