Yes, maps can be deceptive. The standard maps we see every day use Mercator Projection, a cylindrical map projection presented by the Flemish geographer and cartographer Gerardus Mercator in 1569. It was developed for navigational purposes and has often been used in world maps. But, like all the other types of projections, it can be deceptive.
In fact, every map tells lie, since it’s impossible to transform perfectly the three-dimensional world into two-dimensional surfaces like paper or computer screens.
Map projections are necessary for creating maps and every map projections distort the surface in some fashion (a map projection is a systematic transformation of the latitudes and longitudes of locations on the surface of a sphere or an ellipsoid into locations on a plane).
Every map projection introduces distortion, and each has its own set of problems.
One measure of a map’s accuracy is a comparison of the length of corresponding line elements on the map and globe. Therefore, by construction, the Mercator projection is perfectly accurate, k=1, along with the equator and nowhere else.
At a latitude of ±25°, the value of sec φ is about 1.1 and therefore the projection may be deemed accurate to within 10% in a strip of width 50° centered on the equator. Narrower strips are better: sec 8°=1.01, so a strip of width 16° (centered on the equator) is accurate to within 1% or 1 part in 100.
Similarly, sec 2.56°=1.001, so a strip of width 5.12° (centered on the equator) is accurate to within 0.1% or 1 part in 1,000. Therefore the Mercator projection is adequate for mapping countries close to the equator.
But the Mercator projection is not completely unsuccessful. The projection preserves “true compass bearings between any two points” and that’s why it has become a standard in nautical navigation. While sacrificing the size, it’s actually a really useful projection for navigation and on keeping the correct shape of countries.
For some fun facts about the world maps using the Mercator Projection, you can watch the video below.
Watch: how maps can be deceptive
Another beautiful video on the same subject, titled “How the World Map Looks Wildly Different Than You Think”, was published by the RealLifeLore channel.
- Mercator projection on Wikipedia
- Map projection on W
- True Size Tool website. This app was created by James Talmage and Damon Maneice. It was inspired by an episode of The West Wing and an infographic by Kai Krause entitled “The True Size of Africa“.