Wikipedia Map Fail, courtesy of The Atlantic

Once again the news world has errantly relied on Wikipedia for its information. Worse, they used it as the basis for the premise of their article. Max Fisher of The Atlantic recently published an editorial about the protests in the Middle East and beyond (“An Annotated Map of Today’s Protests and of the ‘Muslim World‘ 9/14/12). In it he uses the following map graphic, grabbed from the hallowed ground of Wikipedia and modified to show selected protest sites:


Red indicates violent protests over the film, yellow indicates non-violent protests. Click to enlarge. (Wikimedia/Atlantic)

If you didn’t catch the issue as soon as you looked at the map, don’t feel bad. Apparently neither did the author nor The Atlantic. If you look closely, you will see that the map’s legend is labeled incorrectly as the percentage of Muslim population. How can any group have over 100% of the population in a country? Must be that new math they keep talking about. What the map actually shows is the total population of Muslims in each country. By using this map in this way, the author is (consciously or simply in error) showing the center of Muslim World much farther eastward towards South Asia, when it is generally accepted that the ‘Muslim World’ is defined roughly as North Africa and the Middle East – where the faith has the greatest influence and control. A better map to use in this instance is a map of showing the % of Muslim population. While we don’t think that this was a malicious or intentional deceit, it is certainly one that we would put in the category of a Map FAIL. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Fisher corrects the error and if the use of a correct map will change any of his conclusions.


3 Responses to “Wikipedia Map Fail, courtesy of The Atlantic”

  1. 1 Fullitex
    September 20, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    Not sure why you call this a Wikipedia FAIL, rather than a The Atlantic FAIL. The map on Wikipedia (on 9/20/12) showing the population percentages of the Muslim World doesn’t appear to have this error. Has Wikipedia already corrected/replaced an erroneous map?

    • 2 RB
      September 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      I believe this is the map they used, which is incorrect. You are correct though, it really is equally an Atlantic FAIL for not understanding the map which they chose. Interestingly a number of commentators on the article have picked this up.

  2. 3 moemaps
    September 20, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Bob, apparently there are two version of the World Muslim Population (%) map on the Wikimedia Commons. We assume that the author pulled the following map, which has not been corrected:

    Interestingly, the description of the map on the source page is correct, saying the map depicts population in millions.

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