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Earth Politics

Scottish Independence Campaign Battles Over BBC Weather Forecast 286

Posted by timothy
from the y'canna-take-our-laaaaandform dept.
00_NOP writes "The political battle over Scotland's independence ballot — to take place in September this year — has now moved on to how the BBC project the UK on their national weather forecast. The BBC use a projection based on the view of Britain from geostationary weather satellites and so there is naturally some foreshortening at the northern end of Britain (Scotland, in other words). But nationalist campaigners say this means Scottish viewers are constantly being shown a distorted image of their country which makes it look smaller and hence (in their view) less able to support independence. In response others have suggested that the nationalists are truly 'flat earthers.'"
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Scottish Independence Campaign Battles Over BBC Weather Forecast

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  • by Hognoxious (631665) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @06:53AM (#46374781) Homepage Journal

    Jings, crivens and helpmaboab!

    Will there be a referendum about beta, d'ye ken?

    • This would not be the first time distorted maps have been used for a political purpose. There is no reason use the Mercator projection on world maps except to make the northern hemisphere countries look much larger than those in Africa and South America near the equator. (Hint: Africa is enormous but is often shown as smaller than North America)

      • by Sique (173459) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @08:16AM (#46375007) Homepage
        The problem is that any projection of a map onto a flat surface is distorted. There are no un-distorted maps. A map contains serveral classes of important data on a map, and projections mainly affect distances, areas and angles. It is mathematically impossible to have a plane projection of the Earth's surface which correctly displays distances, but you can have a map that preserves angles and a map that preserves areas. You can't have a preservation of both area and angle in the same map though. But both angle-preserving and area-preserving maps are absolutely bad at displaying distances, so most projections in use today try to compromise between areas and angles and still have not too large distortions of distances. Northpole and Southpole, because they are uninhabited, are cut off most maps, which gives larger playroom for compromise-maps.

        But if you have a map, which tries a compromise between angle preservation and area preservation, and which does not show North- and Southpole, you will always have the areas of the northern and southern regions displayed larger than they are compared to those near the Equator. This is a pure mathematical necessity and not limited to the Mercator projection. The only way to not have this distortion is not to have the Equator being horizontal on your map.

        • Your post is only half correct.
          To make it better you could explicitely mention: world map.

          Ofc. there are plenty of distance true projections. Acimute projection comes to mind, or Gauss - Krueger coordinate systems.

          The point is: those projections or coordinate systems only work (properly) on a local scale.

          For those interested, GK coordinate systems are 3 degrees wide stripes (latitude) projected on a cylinder. That means the same location has different coordinates depending on which cylinder it is referenced

        • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @10:59AM (#46375795)

          The problem is that any projection of a map onto a flat surface is distorted. There are no un-distorted maps. A map contains serveral classes of important data on a map, and projections mainly affect distances, areas and angles. It is mathematically impossible to have a plane projection of the Earth's surface which correctly displays distances, but you can have a map that preserves angles and a map that preserves areas.

          The BBC weathermap is not a true planar projection, though. It's a 3D projection rendered onto 2D, emulating the view of the UK from orbit. Neither ground-level angles, nor latitudinal distance, nor longitudinal distance, nor surface area are preserved. All distances and all areas are reduced. This is because the projection is seemingly taken from somewhere above France, so the south of England is close to the camera, and the north of Scotland is not only further away (hence smaller) but also reduced in height due to the curvature of the Earth included in the projection.

          When this first came in (years ago now), the justification of this was that it is more "natural" to look at, and easier to understand... but only a handful of people have ever had the opportunity to see the UK from such an angle, so I can't see what's so natural about it. Furthermore, the BBC initially refused to allow any regional opt-out from the standard projection, so the Scottish weather was on a zoomed subsection of the map, which had practically zero north/south resolution compared to exaggerated east/west.

          After a lot of complaints, the BBC tweaked the angles slightly, but the problem still remains. It is particularly irritating that the Gaelic weather forecasts, half of whose target audience are in the Highlands and Islands, is forced to use the same map, where their part of Scotland is so drastically shrunken that a single weather symbol blocks out over a hundred miles on the map.

        • In this day and age, there is no excuse for the news media to not transform any satellite imagery so that the topical area is projected as if the satellites was at the areas zenith; and people, buy a globe.

        • by Solandri (704621) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @03:09PM (#46377373)

          The problem is that any projection of a map onto a flat surface is distorted. There are no un-distorted maps. A map contains serveral classes of important data on a map, and projections mainly affect distances, areas and angles. It is mathematically impossible to have a plane projection of the Earth's surface which correctly displays distances, but you can have a map that preserves angles and a map that preserves areas. You can't have a preservation of both area and angle in the same map though. But both angle-preserving and area-preserving maps are absolutely bad at displaying distances, so most projections in use today try to compromise between areas and angles and still have not too large distortions of distances.

          While that's true for maps of large areas of the Earth, the distortions become near-zero for small swaths like the UK. All you need to do is pick a viewpoint directly overhead and at a sufficient distance, which is what the Scottish Independence group is advocating.

          This whole thing probably stems from the geometry of geostationary weather satellites. To always generate the same viewpoint from orbit, the satellites have to be located over the equator at 35,786 km in altitude. That means countries further north in latitude are distorted in the weather photos. From the 1960s to 1990s, this was just the way it was. You couldn't do anything about it. So everyone who lived in extreme northern (or southern) latitudes had to live with distorted satellite weather photos of their country.

          Starting around the mid 1990s, computers became fast enough to correct this distortion in photos in a reasonable amount of time. You could now generate undistorted weather maps of reasonably small countries like the UK. But over the previous 3 decades, people had gotten used to the distorted view from geostationary satellites. When you see a flat undistorted map of your country with weather on it, you think "Oh, that's just a graphic someone drew." When you see a distorted map of your country with weather on it, you think "Oh, that's satellite imagery."

          People innately trust satellite imagery more. It's a picture, taken from space. No manipulation, no airburshing (photoshopping for those of you too young to know what airbrushing is), right? Of course not; you can manipulate satellite photos as easily as you can manipulate photos from your phone camera. But that's not people's instinctive reaction. It's a satellite picture, so that must be what the weather really looks like from space. I think that's what the BBC was trying to go for with their perspective-foreshortened view of the UK for their weather forecasts. It gives it a greater sense of authenticity.

          Eventually, as people lose this pro-satellite viewpoint bias, the overhead viewpoint maps are going to become the norm. But for the time being, it's a quick and silent way to tell the viewer "this is satellite imagery" vs "this is radar or an animated graphic."

      • You must be one of those Gall-Peters "lets make Africa look like a limp dong" map proponents.

        Mercator was not made and is not used for political purposes. When it's used in publishing, it's because the square format of the projection fits nicely on a single vertical-formatted book page. If the publisher is opting for something across 2 pages, they'll typically use a reference map such as Robinson or Winkel-Tripel.

        Mercator IS used in places like Google maps, because it's great for navigation.

  • Bravemap (Score:5, Funny)

    by RDW (41497) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @06:53AM (#46374783)

    "Would you be willin' to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they'll never take OUR MERCATOR PROJECTION!"

  • This is an interesting point actually. Different map projections really do affect the way countries (and especially big countries) look like on the map.

    Whether this should have an impact on how the Scottish view their potential independence I don't know....

  • They're everywhere the same. They have this ridiculous niotion that a border reinstated not very long ago makes the people on both sides in any way different.

  • Half right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kaiidth (104315) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @07:03AM (#46374805)

    Yes, they changed the projection in around 2005. The new format did indeed suck - take a look at the 'this is how weather maps look now' image on this page [bbc.co.uk]. It was a triumph of 3D prettiness over usability and produced wonderfully unhelpful graphics like this [flickr.com] and there was a lot of sulking over it, not so much because of nationalist fervour, but more because it was crap. The BBC themselves claim they had 16,000 complaints [bbc.co.uk]. So they tweaked it, significantly [bbc.co.uk].

    It's a shame that the BBC's obsession with shiny things produced a weather forecast that sucked, and it is indeed quite possible that they didn't recognise how much it sucked because of inner-M25 London myopia, although if so the joke's on them because a significant proportion of BBC staff were moved to Manchester fairly shortly thereafter. Since the BBC produces a lot of things that are shiny but happen to suck it doesn't seem necessary to attribute the weather forecast to a subconscious urge to portray Scotland as negligible. Occam's razor suggests that the simpler explanation might be that whoever outsourced the weather forecasting isn't half as smart as they think they are.

    • It's not particularly hard to fix: spin the viewpoint around the country. For the southern forecast a view from across the channel (pretty much what it is now). For Scotland spin round to viewing from the north, Wales from the west etc. This then has the benefit that whatever region is being discussed takes up most of the screen and the rest of the UK drops away in perspective.

      Whoever they outsourced to is not just less smart that they think they are. They have gone full-retard.

      • "spin the viewpoint around the country"

        And the even bigger upside is that it would then make sense to display it in 3D prettiness. Displaying a 3D image from a fixed 2D viewpoint is just bad.

      • by kaiidth (104315)

        The system is apparently Weatherscape XT [metraweather.com], aka the commercial arm of the New Zealand MetService. See an example that does something more like what you suggest here [youtube.com]. The technology looks quite capable, if a bit gratuitous, so probably someone with a good understanding of how to use such packages could've made something very successful out of it. Weatherscape XT may simply have been doing what the customer requested (no matter how loopy). In view of the AC's remarks on the creative brokenness of the BBC it mig

    • by Smauler (915644)

      it is indeed quite possible that they didn't recognise how much it sucked because of inner-M25 London myopia

      One thing to consider is that many more people live inside the M25 than do in the entirety of Scotland...

  • If Scots think Scotland is a bit small to be functionally viable, then maybe they shouldn't be looking at independence then. These people are idiots.

    • Scots don't think it. Scots think other people will think it, which they likely do.

      • Other people aren't voting in the referendum, only Scots. So what other people think doesn't matter.
  • The whole of the UK is enlarged on almost every map and thus is not in scale with the rest of Europe. My main point though is, who the hell cares?
    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      This is why I prefer American maps. We're massive and you're put in your proper place — anywhere so long as it's small

      • Find a global map where the UK isn't enlarged. Land mass doesn't translate to economic power and in turn power in the world.
        • Find a global map where the UK isn't enlarged. Land mass doesn't translate to economic power and in turn power in the world.

          You're living in the past - the empire is dead.

    • by beelsebob (529313)

      Those of us who want to know what the weather is in Scotland care. We're not talking about Merkator making the UK look a little big here, we're talking about the north of scotland being reduced in size by 40 times thanks to perspective, and hence making it very difficult to tell what's going on up there.

  • They can distort their maps, but they cannot take their FREEEDOM!

  • by taikedz (2782065) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @07:39AM (#46374865) Homepage Journal
    Just goes to show how British the whole affair is. *sips tea*
  • by kruach aum (1934852) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @07:39AM (#46374867)

    This is the Scottish version of "black holes are racist" and the illogic of it makes my skin crawl.

  • When it comes to national forecasts London isn't interested in anything north of Watford.
  • Scotland is a tiny country smaller in area than South Carolina or French Guiana.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Och, Alex, I've got it at last! We can win this thing. Those English bastards think we're a wee bit nuts right? So all we need to do is make them thing we're as mad as a nessie with a haggis on its head, and they'll pop over the border from Carlisle to Gretna Green to vote us independent. Och, we're Scotland after all; where the men wear nothing under their kilts and the fields are thick with thistles. They'll fall for it in no time.

  • Manky scots git!
  • I am aware that no matter what, this is NOT a technical problem. It is a social one. Even if they somehow found a way, the people moaning now will find something else. They will keep moaning even after they would get what they asked for.

    That said, looking at the technical side, what do they use as starting point from where the UKandNI are vieuwed from? Is this the equator as many maps are made that way? What if they would use the middle of UKandNI [wikipedia.org] as a point from where people look. That would mean much less

    • by rossdee (243626)

      Surely they should use Greenwich as the centre point, Thats where the Time Zone originated.
      (Except that the US military prefers to think of it as being centered in Natal St Africa

  • An independent Scotland might be a colossal economic fuckup as all the jobs & money from insurance, banking, service and support industries flee south but dammit the map projections will be correct. Vote Yes in the referendum!
    • Why would it head south? If they wanted to be south, they could have moved already. Scotland will still be part of the EU, so who cares? One major question though is what currency they'd use.

      • by DrXym (126579)
        That's the problem - the currency. The UK government (and all political parties) has said in no uncertain terms that there is no way that Scotland will share currency if they become independent. So any bank, insurance company, pensions investment firm, or even regular business / investor that has accounts in sterling is going to move them south and a big chunk of their infrastructure to mitigate the risk. Perhaps Scotland could join the Euro but those sort of things won't happen over night and it still woul
  • In New Zealand's national museum, I saw a plane world map with the standard viewpoint shifted to directly above the country. There was no distortion of the standard projection, just a shift in viewpoint that made New Zealand look much bigger and more important. On every other map, it's a tiny sliver scrunched into one corner.

    • Self-correct: that should be "projectionists," not Mercator. We don't use Mercator any more and if we did, New Zealand would be exaggerated, not shrimpified.

      My kingdom for an Edit function. I hope the dreaded Beta has one.

  • ...with all those Scots running around for hundreds of years achieving great scientific and economic advances leading to the greatness of the British Empire?

  • by symes (835608)

    Any 2 dimensional representation of a 3 dimensional object will be distorted in some shape or form. Anyhow - if they are that bothered perhaps they should pop a satellite into orbit and make their own weather forecast.

  • by chriswaco (37809) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @10:11AM (#46375529)

    This clip from The West Wing sums up map projection issues nicely: http://youtu.be/n8zBC2dvERM [youtu.be]

  • Well,
    it mit look like a joke or pretty braindead.
    However lots of americans are convinced their country is bigger than the rest of the world together.
    I guess that happens if you don't know anything about maps and the rest of the world.

  • by Arbroath 1320 (3557647) on Saturday March 01, 2014 @10:48AM (#46375723)
    I think that this best describes how the people of Scotland feel about the BBC and their weather map. http://www.youtube.com/watch?f... [youtube.com]
    • by sjames (1099)

      That actually makes it fairly clear.

      I really have no idea if there is anything political in it or if it represents a slight (intentional or otherwise) against anyone, but it does show a very poor use of technology.

      Unlike a printed map, they have the opportunity to change the apparent POV and re-do the projection for each frame of the animation. Instead, they take a fixed projection and stretch it.

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