Mercator’s wrong impressions

Mercator’s projection is a way of making a map – of answering the question of how a surface of a sphere – the earth – can be represented in two dimensions. It has big advantages for navigation, but it gives the wrong impression when it comes to how big places really are because it makes places nearer the equator look smaller and placer nearer the poles look larger. The thing is, my primary school classrooms had maps made using Mercator’s projection. So that image of the world is stuck in my head. In high school I learned of the limitations of such maps, but that fact did not replace the image stuck in my head. I still had Mercator’s view of the world. The animation below shows how wrong I was about the size of Africa compared to the US.

Africa size map - for animation

That changed when I actually came to Africa. Living a reality that was obviously and radically different started replacing the Mercator’s image of the world in my head. So the map above tells something about my personal journey to understand Africa, and the world, on its own terms rather through the lenses supplied by my recollections of my primary school education.

Makes me wonder how many other distorted views of the world I developed when I was a child that I have not yet corrected.

Here are some facts about Africa you might find interesting:

  • The Sahara Desert is almost as large as the continental United States
  • There are over 1,800 languages spoken in Africa. That is more than 25% of all the languages spoken in the world
  • Almost 1/3rd of the countries in the world are in Africa
  • The official language of most African countries is either English or French although in many countries most of the population does not speak either of those languages.

Mercators Projection World Map

If you liked this, you might also like Worse than you thought, Christianity in Africa or Flag map of Africa.

Flag map of Africa

This map of Africa marks each country with its flag. Almost on third of the countries in the world are in Africa. For two places on the map the 2012 flag is different from the 2011.

  • The new nation of Southern Sudan
  • Libya reverted to a pre-Khaddafi flag

Flag-map-of-africaDownload a higher resolution PDF of this map here.

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Teach them English
Map of linguistic diversity
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Linguistic diversity

How likely is it that the next random person you meet will speak  your heart language (mother tongue)?

A man named Greenberg developed a Linguistic Diversity Index based on that question. It takes into account the number of languages in a country, but refines that by looking at how many people speak each one. When one applies his formula to the countries of the world and maps it, this is what you get. Darker is more diverse (more languages and few large languages).

Linguistic Diversity Index

This graphic has huge implications for all sorts of things, from education and development to religion and  politics. As a Bible translator, it tells me where people are least likely to have the Bible in their language.

Click on the map and you will get an interactive version on the originating site.

For you math gurus, Greenberg’s formula is DI = 1 – Σ(Pi)2

Pi = the percent fraction of the total population which comprises the ith language group

i = 1 to n, where n is the number of languages that comprise the society
Σ = is the summation of (Pi)2 for all i