Friday, 13 June 2014

Pedantic cartography

As regular readers know, this entire blog is set up to fight the fight against cartofails. It's written in a jocular style with my British sense of dry humour. I was born with it. It's just the way we're built. Where I can I provide clarification on why a particular map fails and how it can be improved. Occasionally I even re-work stuff to show a 'better' alternative. Remember, this blog began with my correction of the True Size of Africa cartofail by Kai Krausse and my very first blog post.

I recently did a reworking to show where The Proclaimers may have reached in 500 miles. Over the last few weeks it's picked up quite a head of steam and been featured in Slate, The Atlantic's Citylab, got to Number 1 on the Reddit Mapporn sub-Reddit and even warranted a post by that most nonsensical Twitter account @Amazing_Maps. And today it again popped up in The Telegraph...once a respected, though very right wing, British newspaper. All terribly prestigious coverage for what must rate as my most frivolous mapping project ever.

This latest effort by James Edgar has me wincing and has my friends and colleagues chortling into their corn flakes. Edgar has reworked the story from a collage of other sites and it shows. I'm introduced as a pedantic cartographer. Yeah yeah, maybe that's true but why is it that virtually every cartographer get's labelled as pedantic, picky or awkward as if it's a fundamental flaw in our character? These labels stick and really don't help the cause. It's like every scientist has to be a boffin or, dare I say, every journalist is accused of lazy journalism. Actually yes...that's exactly the point. Lazy journalism.

How does correcting a common mapping error by making the effort to show and explain the error with the intent of improving people's appreciation of maps become something to deride? Pedantry is an obsession with 'minor rules'. Sorry pal, but these minor rules actually become very important in mapping even if you neither care nor know about it.

It's not about precision as Edgar suggests...I was not making a more precise map...I was making a correct map for the projection used (Web Mercator). Apparently I "created an accurate projection". No...I did no such thing, the projection already exists. What I did was map correctly on top of it. He goes on that I explained that "simply drawing perfect circles around the start point on a flat world map would not offer a true indication of where they could get to". Actually I didn't say that. You can draw perfect circles on any flat map that uses a conformal projection. You cannot on Web Mercator (actually, strictly speaking you can...they just won't be perfect circles when projected back onto a spherical surface). It's a function of the mathematical projection, not the fact the map is flat. Apparently I then used a "clever computer tool called a Web Mercator". Seriously? Did you not even use Google to check Wikipedia to find out what Web Mercator actually is?

Comments are not enabled on Edgar's post so I have no right of reply. He didn't contact me before running the story so i cannot even claim I've been misquoted.

Let me finish off with some true pedantry. Edgar refers to me as Mr Field. It's actually Dr. Yeah, that's pedantic but heck...I have a qualification in my area of expertise.

The Telegraph? Wow...more like the Daily Mail.