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BLOG POST | Why World Maps Are Wrong

Apparently, wall maps are best left for art – especially if it’s being used as the primary reference for Earth’s geographical accuracy. Jason Harris shows why in the following video, which was originally posted to this Vox article.

And though cartographers for centuries have been attempting to work out the inconsistencies, it will likely be impossible to perfectly render the globe’s actual dimensions (even the U.S. Geological Survey is humbled by this margin of ‘acceptable errors’ that it must base its maps off of, and nope – not even the ever-ubiquitous Google Maps is off the hook in this regard).

However, that obviously doesn’t mean that all maps are completely error-prone and pointless. But far from being created equal as well, maps have always been created in relation to their users and have often been selected for their specific types of information, depending on the use case.

 

Should you base your general idea of the world’s dimensions using the Mercator map?

Unless you were raised as a Flat-Earther or weren’t paying attention in school, this classroom darling  of a map type was likely the first 2D rendition of planet that you were exposed to, which bloats Greenland up to the size of Africa and features an Antarctica that dominates the bottom third of the Earth—just a couple of the projection’s many egregious errors, according to map enthusiasts.

If you’d like to compare the actual sizes of countries by placing them over versions as displayed by the Mercator projection, visit thetruesize.com.

Or perhaps you’d like to perceive the world through the Galls-Peters projection, which attempts to represent the geologic truth of the world’s nations, at least in size. Though it’s been applauded for properly reducing the sizes of imperialist powers like Europe and North America (another criticism of the aforementioned Mercator projection), this rendition has been criticized for distorting landmass shapes by stretching them horizontally near the poles and vertically near the Equator, rendering a  ‘fun-house mirror’ version of our much more attractive and conventional-looking Mercator map.

But if you’re not so easily convinced about the physical truthfulness of any map type, or you would like to see how different mathematicians and mapmakers have selectively distorted and preserved certain attributes for specific use cases, you can also visit this GitHub repository “Extended Geographic Projections for D3-Geo” to learn more.