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to want to change the maps.

(36 Posts)
moxon Wed 22-Oct-14 16:47:05

I love this West Wing clip <http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eLqC3FNNOaI>.
I've always been a Peters projection gal - for scientific and humanistic reasons -, even though I love looking at old (Mercator) maps. And at old old old maps even more, and they are ridiculously wonky. But if I want to look at a geopolitical map of today, I want to look at an accurate one. I want my kids to know what the world looks like when mapped out. There is enough crap around to covertly influence them on economics, race, power, gender, etc. without the basic maps they'll encounter in primary and high school adding to the tally.
I understand and love historical value. And I also understand the practical implications of actually changing the type of map we use as standard around the world.
That said, I keep thinking that if it were Europe or North America who were on the receiving end of subtly entrenching negative economic and cultural stereotypes, they would have amended the standard maps years ago already! And while I realise that there are millions of maps out there, you have to start somewhere, and at some point, right?
So: why are we still producing Mercator maps? Why don't we just bite the bullet and start a long-term replacement programme?

FunkyBoldRibena Wed 22-Oct-14 17:31:16

Totally.

Andrewofgg Wed 22-Oct-14 18:01:15

Since a flat map of a round earth always distorts - YABU,

redexpat Wed 22-Oct-14 19:08:00

I LOVE that episode. Big block of Cheese.

debbietheduck Wed 22-Oct-14 19:21:54

Yes, but all flat maps of a round world distort something. The Peters projection distorts shape very badly, which in many cases is worse than distorting area. The best solution for general use is something like the Robinson projection (used by National Geographic for a lot of world maps) or of course a globe.

The Mercator projection was devised for navigational purposes - it maintains consistency of direction, a straight line on the map is a line of constant bearing in reality. It's an amazing piece of mathematics devised in the sixteenth century, so don't slate it, it has its uses.

duhgldiuhfdsli Wed 22-Oct-14 19:31:12

YABU to think that the Peters Projection and the Mercator Projection are the only options.

The Peters Projection (or more accurately the Gall projection, after the 19th century clergyman from whom Peters plagiarised borrowed it) is a really bad equal area projection. It distorts shapes and angles in a way which makes it a very bad representation of reality. The Mercator projection is ferociously unequal area, but has very handy properties for navigation (a straight line on the map is a rhumb line on the surface of the earth). Other projections are available, including the Robinson projection or the Goode projection, which are equal area, don't distort shape anything like as badly and in some cases have reasonable angle properties too.

I want my kids to know what the world looks like when mapped out.

So why do you advocate a projection which doesn't do that?

duhgldiuhfdsli Wed 22-Oct-14 19:35:23

So: why are we still producing Mercator maps?

Sorry, I see two of us have said why but not in plain terms.

A Mercator (or a transverse Mercator, as used for the Ordnance Survey and most other European national projections since the French gave up on that incredibly weird Lambert Conical) has the property that you can draw a line between two points, measure the angle it makes to the meridians, and then use that as a constant bearing on your compass to get from one point to the other. If you want to be able to use maps to navigate that's a very useful property.

woowoo22 Wed 22-Oct-14 20:04:51

a straight line on the map is a rhumb line on the surface of the earth

Can you explain what that means please? I have a Stanford General Map of the World framed on my wall, I love it.

duhgldiuhfdsli Wed 22-Oct-14 20:09:12

See above.

A rhumb line is a line of constant bearing: it's the path you trace on the surface of the earth if you walk (sail, fly) following a constant compass bearing. Rhumb lines are straight lines on Mercator projections, either standard (a cylinder which touches the earth along the equator) or transverse (a cylinder which touches the earth along a meridian, in the case of the OS maps a meridian that passes through west Birmingham). That's incredibly useful. The Mercator map is hopeless for geography lessons, which is why it isn't used for that, but is indispensable for navigation.

Lorelei353 Wed 22-Oct-14 20:29:37

Wow. There's no topic that can be posted on here that someone won't know loads about. shock

MaidOfStars Wed 22-Oct-14 20:37:56

I have recently finished a great book about maps: Amazon link

Have always loved maps, but no academic knowledge. This book was just the right level. And a very good explanation of why Mercator predominates.

TravelinColour Wed 22-Oct-14 20:41:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

woowoo22 Wed 22-Oct-14 21:04:22

Thanks, that makes sense.

TicTicBOOM Wed 22-Oct-14 21:10:15

Oooh I KNEW it would be about this when I clicked this thread. I go on and on about this but people just look at me like I'm mad.

Bettercallsaul1 Wed 22-Oct-14 23:14:16

Yes, I love that episode too! (although for some reason I can't get the link to play, so just relying on memory!) It's not just a matter of "which way up" the countries are either, is it? It distorts the relative sizes of countries, making Africa in particular too small. Conventional maps have a definite political bias,

Bettercallsaul1 Wed 22-Oct-14 23:23:48

I loved the way that, in that episode, you thought all the ideas being granted a hearing were going to be completely loopy and this one turned out to be so valid and interesting! The Weat Wing was excellent at confounding your expectations!

CuttedUpPear Wed 22-Oct-14 23:29:54

Vair interesting......

moxon Thu 23-Oct-14 07:24:38

duhgl yes, gall-peters. Shorthand, but I shouldn't, really, so you're right.

So why do you advocate a projection which doesn't do that?
The moxon projection is on its way! grin

I tried to indicate in the OP that I place a lot of value on the historical relevance of the Mercator. It was very useful, and in some ways still is, bar political philosphy. As an academic in the wider geographical sciences I am aware of the differing maps that are available, duhgl, but for me the GP projection fits the bill as the best alternative for basic, public education and widespread use. I don't think The Mighty Western World should still be producing Mercator maps for everyday use which cements their size/power/culture bias in the greater world; it entrenches those subtle stereotypes amongst both first and third world nations. Even though I know better, in my head the picture of Greenland is still the same size as Africa, thanks to years of early indoctrination. And it does matter, because not all kids grow up to see other maps and get exposed to the philosophies at play in the greater world. I'd happily blame Mercator for being part of the Middle-American problem of 'oh, you're from Kenya? Africa? I met a guy called Ben from Cape Town, maybe you know him?'

moxon Thu 23-Oct-14 07:27:16

The Weat Wing was excellent at confounding your expectations!

Yes, better call, not many US programmes that are non-satirical in overall genre have managed to mock themselves so well.

duhgldiuhfdsli Thu 23-Oct-14 07:28:49

but for me the GP projection fits the bill as the best alternative for basic, public education

Even though it wildly distorts shape? Unless you think there's some pressing reason why projections have to be rectangular, which immediately means it's going to be wildly distorting of shape, area or both, why isn't the Robinson projection better in every way? It's equal area and nothing like as distorting of shape.

moxon Thu 23-Oct-14 07:37:39

The Mercator map is hopeless for geography lessons, which is why it isn't used for that, but is indispensable for navigation.

Sorry duhgl, I meant to add this to my first reply. Hopeless for geography lessons is exactly right. I'd rather my young kids imbibe the right geographical philosophy about size and power and thereafter learn about navigational accuracy, than assume they will need to sail from Cork to Buenos Aires age 10 and so need a Mercator on their classroom wall.

honeysucklejasmine Thu 23-Oct-14 07:53:09

Perhaps geography classrooms should have a selection of projections displayed, with their main function labelled. And a globe!

StetsonsAreCool Thu 23-Oct-14 07:58:20

Ooh, thank you OP. I've got a day off work today, and you've just given me something to do this morning. Big block of cheese day!

Wrt maps, I haven't got enough of a memory of the details, but I would definitely like us to have easier access to the 'woah' maps, for similar reasons to you. I think we should be learning about just how small we are in comparison to the rest of the world, even if only to show just how vast the areas area where our natural resources are. It's one thing to know how many acres of rainforest are being destroyed, and another thing to see that on a current map, but then put that on a realistic scale and suddenly it's a lot scarier!

moxon Thu 23-Oct-14 08:05:43

why isn't the Robinson projection better in every way? It's equal area and nothing like as distorting of shape.

I don't agree that the distortion is so severe in Peters as to make it a worse alternative. I think its cultural-economic impact is worth more than Mercators etc, and as primary eduction tool it is better. But I am of a philosophical persuasion and admit my own hypocrisy readily. Especially as regards rectangular projections. wink However - didn't NatGeo rebel quite vehemently against Robinson? I seem to remember that they used it in the early nineties but don't anymore (might need to be corrected on that one; can't remember when the Robinson was drawn up first).

Perhaps we could settle on the hobo-dyer instead? I'm quite fond of it too. Until we get the moxon projection off the ground? The children! Won't somebody please think of the children!

moxon Thu 23-Oct-14 08:10:05

smile honey, stetsons.

<now of course contemplating globes made out of cheese>

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