Cancer Maps Show The Power And Limits Of Data For Public Policy

Joseph Marks | | May 7, 2014

Technological advances in the past half-decade have made it much easier for nonspecialists to use specialized maps as part of their daily work. The Environmental Protection Agency uses custom maps to target pollution enforcement, humanitarian groups use maps to track the migration of people displaced by wars and famine and emergency responders use maps to manage their response to hurricanes and floods.

Using maps to glean important public policy data has a long pre-Internet history, though, stretching back, at least, to Lewis and Clark. Linda Pickle has spent decades using maps and other spatial analyses to gather insights from cancer data. She likely had the first copy of Geographic Information System software at the National Institutes of Health, NCI’s parent agency, she told Nextgov recently, and she’s watched as visualization data went from “little better than crayons” to Google Maps applications that nearly anyone can use...