Map expert Monaghan strikes again

bbc maps

I really shouldn’t bother with this. It’s trivial. But properly considered it reveals some telling lessons. If you want the fun side of the subject hunt around on Twitter for the already voluminous number of jokey responses to Paul Monaghan SNP MP’s tweet all, I’m pleased to say, at his expense.

You’ll probably spot that the two images are the beginning and end of an animated GIF that unfolds as part of Monaghan’s tweet. The gist is clear. It’s one from the rich seam of SNP grievance – the BBC weather map makes Scotland look smaller than it is. Or should be. Or something.

The BBC of course is a favourite SNP target. When I plotted a nationalist grievance every day for a month last summer I recorded three separate anti-BBC moans, although not this one. This particular gripe has been around a while. The presenter’s red poppy suggests that the forecast tinkered with dates at least from last October/early November, perhaps even a year before that.

The learned doctor may be an ace at psychology (the subject of his PhD – although why does he need to tell us he’s got one?) but he’s a bozo as far as map projections are concerned. A map, which is what the image of the UK on the TV screen is, is a flat two-dimensional thing. It attempts to reproduce an image of the three-dimensional earth. No map projection can do that accurately. In moving from three to two dimensions any projection is a compromise between accurate portrayal of distance, direction, scale and area. So Monaghan’s words ‘literally’ and ‘reality’ are meaningless in this context.

Of course, the BBC could have chosen a different projection, although none would have produced the surface of the earth accurately. Rather than a fiendish unionist plot to do Scotland down yet again, all they have tried to do here is make a graphic representation of the curvature of the earth. If you look at a conventional globe the North Pole is at the top and the earth curves away from the nearest point to you, the equator. If you want to keep that (partial) illusion of curvature that’s how you do it.

What readers outwith Scotland won’t know is that BBC Scotland has its own forecast on its Scottish news bulletins. That covers the UK briefly but begins with a more detailed map of Scotland that fills the screen and pulls away eventually to show the whole of the British Isles. I expect if I subjected the Scottish map to a detailed analysis I could find that Shetland was subjected to a similar diminution. [Done – see Update below]

The bigger question for me is why on earth does an elected parliamentarian bother with trivia like this? Forget the understanding of maps. What is the psychology (since that’s his subject) that drives this sort of nonsense? It must be a narrow and bitter mind that makes an issue out of the weather map.

Anyhow, now you’ve done the serious bit, get away to those Twitter funnies that take Dr Monaghan down a peg or two.

Update 6 March 2016. I have now looked at the weather map BBC Scotland uses for its own forecasts and my guess that Shetland would be subject to a similar diminution was correct. I am waiting for riots in the streets of Lerwick. Dr Monaghan may notice his own Caithness constituency is also ‘less significant,’ to use his words. Over to you Paul, crank up that grievance machine again.

bbc scotland weather map

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5 Responses to Map expert Monaghan strikes again

  1. David Tunstall says:

    An anti Mercatorist?

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person

  2. Alan Parker says:

    Maybe the doc thinks the earth is flat ?


  3. Terry Kelly says:

    Can I say thank you to the writer of this piece for reassuring us that Doctor Monaghan is not a medical doctor.


    • Roger White says:

      Ha! It’s well known, as I suspect you know. His PhD is in social policy, which presumably didn’t involve a great deal of understanding of cartography.


  4. neilking says:

    I do so agree that, if Wishart is the nastiest, the good doctor is the dosiest SNP MP. My favourite one was when he tweeted a picture of a sign advising partial EU funding of a road improvement with the observation that the EU had done more for his constituency than the UK ever had. As always in these situations, I’m never sure whether to be scandalised (but not surprised) at these people telling such barefaced lies or appalled that our elected representatives can be so ignorant. I suspect the latter and that the Doc is just – well – not very clever.


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