Which is bigger, Greenland or China? With the traditional Mercator map (circa 1569, and still in use in many schoolrooms and boardrooms today), Greenland and China look the same size. But in reality China is almost 4 times larger! In response to such discrepancies, Dr. Arno Peters created a new world map that dramatically improves the accuracy of how we see the Earth.
Mercator's projection (created at a time when navigators were sailing on the oceans in wooden ships, powered by the wind, and navigating by the stars) was particularly useful because straight lines on his projection were lines of constant compass bearing. Today the Mercator projection still remains useful for navigational purposes and is referred to by seafarers and airline pilots.
The Mercator is also a "conformal" map projection. This means that it shows shapes pretty much the way they appear on the globe. The mapmaker's dilemma is that you cannot show both shape and size accurately. If you want a true shape for the land masses you will necessarily sacrifice proportionality, i.e., the relative sizes will be distorted.
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Although the featured clip in this article is from ‘The West Wing’, the inaccuracies of the world maps we commonly use is anything but fictional. The clip below reveals an accurate look at the size of Africa and how a world map might better reflect its size.