March 29, 2011

Mapping Male Enhancement: Distorting Size the Old Fashioned Way

As we feature various maps made by other folks from time to time, we thought the recent maps showing the average size of men's (and women's), ahem... private parts, were pretty interesting. Below is a static image of the map of average penis sizes, with a link to the original, dynamic map provided. These maps have been circulated around the interwebs for the last week or so, largely without a critical eye.

But as has been pointed out since then, the data used in these maps is fairly dubious. The source of the data, Andromedical, is a company that provides solutions to all one's, ahem... enhancement needs. But the link to a company that profits from making men and women feel inadequate is not the only thing that calls this data into question. In the data presented by Andromedical there is no uniform source or method of standardization. In short, there's basically no way whatsoever of verifying the data these maps display.

So why in the world did we feel it necessary to mention this? Well, in addition to participating in the latest Internet meme, we thought it important to highlight the ongoing concerns of accuracy when it comes to neogeography and/or volunteered geographic information (we're looking at you, Goodchild). When anyone can produce and disseminate maps like these online, how are we to tell those that are legitimate from those that are not?

Obviously, not every map mashup or amateur cartographer should be written off automatically, nor even compared to a dubious medical company with intentions to profit off of people's lack of sexual self esteem. But the fact that this map was passed around the web so quickly -- if nothing else than for it's "oh, wow" factor -- points to the ease with which misinformation about any topic can be spread, so long as it's through the means of a colorful choropleth map mashup (not, as Time Magazine called it, a cartogram).

So in the end, these maps are simply another example of how maps distort size. But rather than area distortion based on map projections, it is simply the old standby of using questionable data.

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