Why Seeing isn’t always believing - How to compare countries by their true size

June 14, 2018 2 min read

Map showing the true size of countries - and the difference that map projections can make

A map of the world - this map uses the Mercator projection and as such distorts the area more and more the close you get the the polar regions

Figure 1:Continents of the world

The idiom, Seeing is believing, is not something that often gets said or thought of
when we think of world maps. We often think that the traditional world map we have grown up seeing, is an accurate representation of the world and the size of its continents and countries.

But... What if you found out that this is not actually a true representation of the
size of countries and that they are distorted, appearing bigger or smaller depending on their distance from the equator? To show you this distortion, a website called thetruesize.com, shows you the true size of a country as you drag it to different locations, allowing you to more accurately compare sizes.

This map show the true size of countries and illiterates the effects map projections can have in terms of distorting area

Source: thetruesize.

Let’s take an example and compare the size of China, India and the USA to Africa. On a traditional map, these all look to be of a similar size but when we move them onto the African continent, we can see all three countries easily fit within the borders of the continent.

The reason for this may have you scratching your head and wondering why this happens? The answer to this question is a fairly simple one, it is because of the type of projection that was used when creating the map. Traditional world maps are historically based on the Mercator Projection, created in 1569 by Gerardus Mercator.

Mercator developed this projection to help with accurate nautical navigation but it
had a major shortcoming, in that it distorts landmasses based on their relative
position to the equator. This is why some countries like Greenland look huge but are actually slightly smaller than India.
See for yourself, go to Thetruesize.com and see for yourself that seeing isn’t always believing when referring to world maps.

Here is another video that helps illestratet the true difference in size between countries


Maps of World. (2018) [Map of the world indicating continents] Retrieved from