A few years ago, when the avian influenza epidemic raised urgent red flags about the potential for a global flu pandemic, I was working at the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center. The epidemiologists there were working to understand the systems that could trigger such a pandemic and determine what steps might be taken to avoid one.
A major concern for scientists, health personnel, and policymakers is that influenza viruses mutate easily and can even jump species. They are complex systems, they are highly adaptive, and their trajectory is not predictable. With so many people in the world keeping poultry and other livestock near wildlife, and with rapid global travel so common, one of these mutations can become deadly enough to kill people and then spread quickly. Communicating the danger inherent in such a complex system is made easier by the use of graphics: it's easy to follow the flow and trajectory.
We live in a complex world. How can it be understood more easily with the help of a graphic recorder? Next up, we'll look at the visualization of different complex systems.