Cartographic justice.

If you’re a West Wing nut then no doubt it’ll look like I’m years late to the party here. I am years late to the party. But there’s no way I could continue ploughing through these episodes at a rate of three a day without mentioning something from them at least once here. There’s plenty I’d like to say about how much fertile material the series provides for pondering problems where politics and morality meet. And I can’t begin to fathom just how much some episodes must excite human management and political science nerds. I think it would be worth comparing it to Sorkin’s latest too – the lot less loved but equally idealistic The Newsroom. But I’ll shut up about all that for now and ask you to just watch this:

It looks like the Peters projection that this fictional group push is just as contentious as the Mercator projection they attack, but it can’t be on the grounds that anything said here is false. All flat-square maps of a sphere must necessarily distort, but it is a fact that the Mercator projection makes Greenland look as big as Africa when Africa is fourteen times larger. Fourteen! We’re not splitting hairs here. Alaska and Brazil also look equivalent. The former is only a fifth of the latter’s size.

The Mercator projection does this because “distortion increases away from the equator and is extreme in polar regions”. Only the wildest cynic would take this to be intentional psychological manipulation. But a by-product of this distortion is undoubtedly political in nature:

Mercator inflates the sizes of regions as they gain distance from the equator. Since much of the developing world lies near the equator, these countries appear smaller and less significant.

On Peters’s projection, by contrast, areas of equal size on the globe are also equally sized on the map so poorer, less powerful nations could be restored to their rightful proportions.

I dunno. It’s easy to over-think this. But it surely wouldn’t have harmed my perception of the world if I had grown up looking at this:

Instead of this:


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