Monday, December 5, 2011

US Code - Network Diagrams

These network visualizations of the U.S. Code depict references from statutes to other statutes within each of the code’s 49 titles (the code numbers 1-50, but Title 34 has been repealed). The full set of images can be seen here.

The graphs were made using the open-source software package Cytoscape. The blue dots are the subtitles, parts, and other elements that organize each title in its normal published format. I used data from a hypertext version of the code published by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School (; available to all under a CC BY-NC license). References to statutes within each title were extracted from the URL links in this online document.

For example, this sentence (from Title 26 - § 509):

For purposes of paragraph (3), an organization described in paragraph (2) shall be deemed to include an organization described in section 501 (c)(4), (5), or (6) which would be described in paragraph (2) if it were an organization described in section 501 (c)(3).

creates a link between § 509 and § 501.

In fact, my inspiration for this project came from a surprising reference to this complicated piece of the tax code. Last spring, when David Foster Wallace’s posthumous novel The Pale King was published, a blog post about the novel on The New York Times website mentioned a speech that Ronald Reagan gave 25 years ago about the need for tax reform. Reagan began that speech by quoting the sentence above, which he described as coming from a “very famous U.S. Government Document.” This nearly indecipherable sentence led me to think about how the U.S. code is organized both hierarchically (in terms of titles, subtitles, chapters, etc.) and as a network with references between statutes. These images are an attempt to visualize the hidden network structures within these very complicated texts.

The titles depicted in the holiday card are:

Top Row (Left to Right - the first is the little one above the block M):
Title 23 - Highways
Title 6 - Domestic Security
Title 22 - Foreign Relations and Intercourse
Title 36 - Patriotic Societies and Observances

Middle Row:
Title 16 - Conservation
Title 25 - Indians
Title 7 - Agriculture

Bottom Row:
Title 42 - The Public Health and Welfare
Title 43 - Public Lands
Title 2 - The Congress
Title 27 - Intoxicating Liquors

- Justin Joque, Spatial and Numeric Data Librarian