Canada is apparently suffering from an outbreak of maps that omit Prince Edward Island, and islanders are upset about it: culprits include a map at Vancouver’s airport, and a t-shirt sold by Hudson’s Bay Company. To be sure, in neither case are the maps meant for navigation, but this is a country where regional representation is a touchy subject.
Hundreds of thousands of Indiana state highway maps that misspelled the new governor’s name are being destroyed and reprinted at the vendor’s expense. (WTHR’s coverage does not indicate what the spelling error was.) Misspelling the boss’s name is obviously politically awkward; I can’t help but suspect that actual cartographic errors would be let through with a sticker or an errata notice instead. [MAPS-L]
Edward Brooke-Hitching’s new book, The Phantom Atlas: The Greatest Myths, Lies and Blunders on Maps (Simon & Schuster UK, November) is a book about fictitious and erroneous places that were presented on maps as real—“non-existent islands, invented mountain ranges, mythical civilisations and other fictitious geography.” Places like the Mountains of Kong, or the open ocean at the North Pole, or California as an island. Both the Economist’s 1843 Magazine and the Guardian have excerpts and examples from the book.
The hardcover seems to be available only in the U.K. right now, or through third-party resellers on Amazon. The ebook, however, is more widely available: here are links for the Kindle and iBooks. [Ian McDonald/WMS]
Related: Map Books of 2016.
The Spectator reviews Malachy Tallack’s new book, The Un-Discovered Islands. “This book is an account of 24 non-existent islands, yet is suffused with the same elegiac frostiness as before. Tallack’s style is precise without being perjink, and the overwhelming feeling is of something lost, or disappearing. It’s just this time, what is lost never was.” [WMS]
Previously: Mapping Scottish and/or Nonexistent Islands.
Most maps published by the Canadian government, including the poster-sized map I have on my wall, claim a vast tract of the Arctic Ocean, all the way up to the North Pole—basically everything east of 141 degrees west longitude—as Canadian territory. The National Post’s Tristin Hopper argues that this is a mistake. Canada doesn’t even officially claim that (briskly melting) expanse of ice.
The incorrect Canadian maps are all based on the old-fashioned “sector theory” of claiming the Arctic. Back when the Arctic Ocean was largely an inaccessible chunk of ice that swallowed explorers, polar nations were generally content with dividing it up like the slices of a pizza that had the North Pole at its centre. […]
Nevertheless, while various expansionist Canadian politicians have enthusiastically touted some version of the sector theory over the years, it has never been officially adopted as Canadian policy.
(I seem to have a number of other Canada-related items in my queue. Let me get to them next.)
NPR reports on the disappearance of national forests from Google Maps, and the trouble with accurately displaying green spaces on maps.
Typically, mint green highlights designate publicly owned wild spaces on Google’s maps. But as of this writing, some of those public lands have gone gray. The locations are still searchable, but if you don’t already know the park or forest exists, and where exactly, you might not be able to find it.
No green space is safe: Many of the missing parks are national forests, but some are state forests, Bureau of Land Management recreation areas, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas. Some, like the Blue Hills Reservation in Massachusetts, are just a few thousand acres. Others, like the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania, are over 500,000.
As the Disputed Territories site, which catalogues how Google manages various contested borders, points out, “Google’s maps of disputed territories differ depending on who’s looking at them.” As we’ve seen recently with regard to Crimea, that doesn’t always keep Google out of trouble. An online petition asking Google to label Palestine on Google Maps has garnered more than 300,000 signatures since March. The petitioners accuse Google of removing Palestine at Israel’s insistence; but, as the Guardian reports, “the truth is, it was never labelled by Google in the first place.” (The West Bank and Gaza Strip had their labels removed by a bug; Google’s restoring them.)
In a follow-up piece for the Guardian, Leigh Alexander writes:
The swiftness of the backlash, though, is not just about the wish for justice on behalf of an occupied people, but about the belief—now punctured—that our technology is neutral, that it presents an unbiased, infallible version of the world. […]
While it might seem imperialistic for Google to decide how the US should see the rest of the world, perhaps it would be equally troubling to see the company wade into global verdicts on the righteousness of every international occupation. That it allows its sketch of the geopolitical climate to reflect the perspective of who is viewing it, rather than impose the prevailing popular opinion in the west, may not be neutral or unbiased, but it is probably the most fair.
An exhibition both online and at the Boston Public Library’s Leventhal Map Center through 23 October, Hy-Brasil: Mapping a Mythical Island looks at the island that appeared on maps of the Atlantic Ocean over a period of five centuries. “In this online exhibition of forty maps from the collection at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library and the Mapping Boston Foundation, visitors will see the transition of Hy-Brasil over the course of five centuries from legitimate island destination, to ‘imaginary’ place, to simply a ‘rock,’ before it finally stops appearing on maps in the late 19th century. A variety of map formats are included in the online exhibition, such as portolan charts, woodcut engravings, copperplate engravings and lithographic prints. Hy-Brasil even makes an appearance on a 1492 globe.” [WMS]
As is often the case with disputed boundaries, what online maps show depends on who they’re showing it to. So when it comes to Crimea, which annexation by Russia two years ago many countries refuse to recognize (not least of which Ukraine!), Google Maps shows Crimea as Russian territory to Russian users, as Ukrainian territory to Ukrainian users, and disputed territory to everyone else. As the Washington Post reports, that didn’t stop Google from getting in trouble with Russia last month, when Google changed Crimean names in all versions of Google Maps to conform with a 2015 Ukrainian law that removed Soviet names from Ukrainian territory. Russian Crimean politicians called it “Russophobic” and “topographical cretinism,” according to the Post; by last Friday, though, the name changes had apparently been reverted. [WMS]
Victor van Werkhooven’s cartographical pet peeve: historical maps of Europe that include Flevoland, which didn’t even exist until the 20th century. (Polders. Dikes. Land reclamation. You get the idea.) It’s not often that the physical shape of the world—the coasts, the shorelines—has to be taken into account when creating a historical map, but this is one such case. [Mapfail]
BuzzFeed’s Jim Waterson calls out a map making the social media rounds that purports to show the results of the 2016 local elections in the U.K. Only it doesn’t. It’s apparently being spread by Labour supporters keen to defend their party’s performance in the elections and convinced their party is receiving unfair media treatment—and of course, people tend to believe what they want to believe. Waterson goes on to show how to make a fake map of your very own. [Thierry Gregorius]
Previously: When Maps Lie.
Not every geographic database uses Null Island. When MaxMind’s geolocation database, which matches IP addresses to physical locations, can only identify an IP address’s country, it uses a default location roughly at the centre of that country. In the case of the United States, it turned out to be Joyce Taylor’s farm in Potwin, Kansas. Fusion’s Kashmir Hill has the horror story that has ensued: MaxMind’s database is used by thousands of online services, whose users mistook a default location with a precise address.
For the last decade, Taylor and her renters have been visited by all kinds of mysterious trouble. They’ve been accused of being identity thieves, spammers, scammers and fraudsters. They’ve gotten visited by FBI agents, federal marshals, IRS collectors, ambulances searching for suicidal veterans, and police officers searching for runaway children. They’ve found people scrounging around in their barn. The renters have been doxxed, their names and addresses posted on the internet by vigilantes. Once, someone left a broken toilet in the driveway as a strange, indefinite threat.
As Hill’s article points out, Taylor is far from the only one to be hit by this problem. MaxMind is updating its database to correct this and one other case by moving the default location to a body of water. (I can’t help but think that we will soon start hearing stories about people driving into the lake as a result of this change.) There’s no such thing as a set of coordinates that can’t be represented precisely. What’s the solution?
“Although Google Maps is fast becoming the ultimate authority on navigation,” writes Karen Turner for the Washington Post, “the program is proving vulnerable to mistakes and hackers with results that at times can be catastrophic.” Turner focuses on Google and problems with its error-correction and verification processes; it’s worth remembering, though, that all online maps suck in some way: no map service has a monopoly on accuracy or error. [via]