Most people believe that maps show the “truth” of the physical world. But how much are we really getting wrong?
March 9th marks the birth of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian cartographer and explorer whose life’s work (and surname) contributed to the naming of North and South America.
In addition to that noteworthy entry on his resumé, Vespucci was also the first person to demonstrate that Brazil was not necessarily east of Asia, but a whole “new world” — or at least that’s what he thought he saw upon arriving at Rio de la Plata and Rio de Janeiro at the turn of the 16th century.
As Vespucci’s assertions make clear, people tend to believe that what they see is the truth — and the same holds for maps. But when we look at a map of the world, we are looking at a flat projection of Earth, a sphere, which means that some distortion is inevitable.
In many cases, we don’t take that into account, undoubtedly skewing our perceptions of the planet, which can shape what – or where – we value. Let’s take a look at what maps get wrong, and how they affect our understanding of the world.