Saturday, February 9, 2013

Taking a risk

Image above:  Mapping the risk of a coup.

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Edgy geography

"Edgy Geography" is a term I have heard from those advocating a geography pushing the limits and promoting engagement of students. The area of risk geography is a way to put the edginess into any geography course. As I wrote in a previous Spatialworlds posting

"The whole area of risk in geography provides a dynamic lens to view and study geography and geographical phenomena. Literature on the topic is limited but I am sure it will grow significantly as the concept of risk gains currency in geographical thinking and curriculum development."

The above risk map is an excellent example of a risk spatial study in geography. The map sorts the countries of the world into three groups based on their relative coup risk for 2013: highest (red), moderate (orange), and lowest (beige). It must be emphasised that the map relates to “relative probability” because coup attempts are very rare, so the estimated risk of coup attempts in any given country in any single year is pretty small. For example, Guinea-Bissau tops the list for 2013, and the estimated probability of at least one coup attempt occurring there this year is only 25%. Most countries worldwide are under 2%.
Consistent with an emphasis on relative risk, the categories mapped are based on rank order, not predicted probability. The riskiest fifth of the world (33 countries) makes up the “highest” group, the second fifth the “moderate” group, and the bottom three-fifths the “lowest” group. This forecasting process doesn’t have enough of a track record to say exactly how those categories relate to real-world risk, but based on similar data and models, one would expect roughly four of every five coup attempts to occur in countries identified on the map as high risk, and the occasional “miss” to come from the moderate-risk set. Only very rarely should coup attempts come from the 100 or so countries in the low-risk group.

Such map making based on supposition and probability is contentious and subject to criticism from data and discipline purists, but what a great place to start when talking with students about the concept of risk and how geography and spatial technology can be used to represent and possibly predict futures.

*** Postscript added after the Boston Bombings: Another example of risky geography following the April bombings in Boston:
 Maps show more risk but less fear in cities. Some great use of spatial technology with risky geography.

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