This is how map projections warp your understanding of geography

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How distorting are map projections? Here's what four commonly used systems of projection do to a human head.

From the 1921 publication Elements in Map Projection comes this striking demonstration of "the distortion and exaggeration inherent in various systems of projection."

Preserving the relative size and shape of the globe's assorted land masses on a 2-dimensional surface is no mean task, and it's one that mapping systems like the widely used Mercator projection (demonstrated above, at the bottom right) struggle with. The Mercator belongs to a family of maps known as "compromise projections," so-called for their tendency to sacrifice things like accurate geographic size and shape in favor of nice, straight lines (this trade-off being specific to the Mercator system). Compromise projections are notorious for giving rise to a warped view of geographic scale, and, arguably, sociopolitical prominence. Many people whose geographic knowledge is based on a compromise projection, for example, have a very poor idea of Africa's true, immense size.


Complement with this map of Pangea, charted with modern political borders and this map of the United States overlaid on the Moon.


[Elements in Map Projection via IOTBS]