Stretching the truth

15 05 2008

There is no real definition of the term but you would know someone was “stretching the truth” if you heard it. A woman sensitive to being asked her age might reply “I am in my forties” when in actual fact her 50th birthday is just around the corner. Other ladies would smile knowingly and say she was “stretching it a little” or has stretched something else a little bit more. But sometimes facts are not in general knowledge and thus making the effort of stretching the truth easier. What is more surprising is that some “facts” which are in general knowledge are actually false!

I assume most of my readers have taken geography as a subject in school so you’d all be familiar with the map below.

world mapMap of the world

This map of the world you see above is widely used in almost all geography text books in Malaysia. The lines you see on the map are longitudinal and Latitudinal lines. Here is where the truth gets stretched, literally….and for hundreds of years it has permeated into general knowledge, disguising itself as fact. You see, because the world is a sphere, longitudinal lines actually converge at both poles. But in the map above these lines are stretched to make it easier to depict shapes of countries and distances between points on a two dimensional surface, i.e paper. So what happened was that the European countries and North America & Canada “grew” in size on these maps.

India is is the world’s 7th largest country with about 3,287,000 square kilometres of land mass. The United Kingdom by comparison is the 78th largest nation at 245,000 square kilometres. It is about thirteen and a half times smaller than India. Yet on this so familiar map, we can see it is not depicted as such. Germany, at 357,000 square kilometres is less the half the size of Borneo Island (740,000 sq km) and yet it looks slightly bigger! Have a look for yourself. In fact none of the European countries are depicted “to scale”. Truth? fact? Now take a look at the map below.

I first saw this map in the late 80’s while I was in the U.S. It caught my attention because it was radically different to the maps I was used to looking at. This map is the work of Dr. Arno Peters and goes by the name Peters Map or Peters Projection Map. This map shows each square kilometre of land for what is actually is and thus the true size of every country in the world. It was presented to the world in 1974 but to this date I have only personally seen this map a handful of times. Why is this map not in popular use? Is it because for centuries the mercator projection maps was able to depict North America, Canada and European countries as larger than life in the consciousness of everyone in this world?

How many of you are aware of this map’s existence? Everytime I hear the truth being stretched, my mind goes back to a picture of this map.

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