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Does the world revolve around Toronto, as this map seems to show?

Leonard Guelke created this projection to tell you exactly how far it was from anywhere on Earth to Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Draw a straight line on this map from Toronto to anywhere in the world and, with some simple math, you've got the real-world distance. In order to achieve this benefit, you need to sacrifice some shapes and sizes.

Look at this map. Take a second look, a good look. What do you think of it? Would you call this is an accurate map of the world? If you think it is, why? If you do not, why not? If you recognize North and South America, do you also recognize Africa? How about Australia? Let's get really specific: trace Australia's shape onto a separate sheet of paper. Leave the name off. Show it to some friends–how many people looking at this do you suppose are going to say, "Of course that's Australia–anybody would recognize it"? Why would an honest mapmaker–in this case, Leonard Guelke–make a map that distorts some land masses so severely? Now note another feature of the map. The circles marked 2500 miles, 5000 miles and so on, all center on Toronto.

As you know, on a map, to show one truth you have distort another. On any map of the world "something has got to give." A world map that correctly shows distances from a central point must sacrifice other qualities. Which? Accuracy of some shapes, as we have just demonstrated with the tracing of Australia. Precise sizes for another. Compare Australia and the United States: which looks larger? In spite of what this map seems to tell us, Australia really covers 3,000,000 square miles; the United States, 3,360,000 .

This map has limitations even with regard to distance. You can accurately measure the distance from Toronto to, say, Paris, France or to Caracas, Venezuela, but not between Caracas and Paris. The given scale does not apply. The only constant distances are those from Toronto. That's what the map claims. That's exactly what it delivers.

Is this a good map? Actually, it is a very good map–for a very limited purpose. But as soon as you try to make it do something it was not intended to do, you have created a problem. Note the language: the map doesn't create the problem, the user does.

This image is taken from Seeing Through Maps: The Power of Images to Shape Our World View by Ward L. Kaiser and Denis Wood. This book looks closely at the images and messages of maps. Chapter One is titled "The Multiple Truths of the Mappable World" which can be downloaded at no charge. You can also order copies of "Seeing Through Maps" from our site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Compare Australia and the United States: which looks larger? In spite of what this map seems to tell us, Australia really covers 3,000,000 square miles; the United States, 3,360,000"

 

 

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