The True Size of . . .
One of my favorite map books is called How to Lie With Maps by Mark Monmonier. How to Lie highlights the use and abuse of maps and teaches us how to critically evaluate these “easy-to-manipulate models of reality.” Monmonier claims that, despite their immense value, maps must lie.
Back of the book jacket , Monmonier introduces basic principles of mapmaking, gives entertaining examples of the misuse of maps in situations from zoning disputes to census reports, and covers all sorts of distortions from deliberate oversimplifications to the misleading use of color.
How can maps “lie?”
An clip from an old West Wing is a good example of how maps can distort reality. The press secretary is sitting through a briefing by the fictional “Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality” that argues that the President needs to support
legislation that would make it mandatory for every public school in America to teach geography using the Peters Projection map instead of the traditional Mercator.
The OCSE also pushes for the South-Up Map. And while the clip is a bit tongue in cheek, I think it does a great job of introducing the idea that maps can and do distort reality.
Of course, I’m sure that you’ve already read How to Lie With Maps but it’s not very practical to have your 4th / 8th / 11th grade students breeze through a nerdy map book. So what’s an easy way to show kids how maps can lie and lead them into a great conversation about geography?
Use the very cool The True Size tool. James Talmage and Damon Maneice, two computer developers based out of Detroit, developed the site that shows how much distortion of reality is caused when using the traditional Mercator map. The tool, dubbed “The True Size” allows you to type in the name of any country and move the outline around to see how the scale of the country gets distorted the closer it gets to the poles.
And once you enter a state or country, you also get some basic geo info.
A recent Washington Post article highlights some of the recent social media buzz that the site has generated. The feed is a great way to see how others are using True Size.