Fact Check

Did a Science Textbook Mistake Africa for South America?

An image of a shockingly inaccurate map may have once appeared in a textbook, but the current version of that work is correct.

Published Aug. 14, 2018

A map showing the "Distribution of Perching Birds" in a science textbook mistook Africa for South America.

An image purportedly showing an odd-looking map charting the "Distribution of Perching Birds" in North and South America began recirculating on social media in mid-July 2018:

For those who don't see it, the shape of the land mass to the south of Mexico in this image isn't that of South America, but of the continent of Africa.

This image has been making its way around the internet for several years. And every time its reposted, viewers ask the same question: Was this map really published in an actual school textbook? In fact, when this picture hit the "ShittyMapPorn" section of Reddit in early 2018, dozens of users chimed in with that very question:

So, was this map truly published in a textbook? Or was it digitally altered as a prank?

The Terrible Maps Twitter account reported that this map appeared in the 5th chapter of Glencoe Science's Biology textbook. A PDF version of this book available via the Seymour Community School District in Wisconsin does include a similar map, but in that version of the textbook correctly renders South America on that map.

Here's a comparison of the map included in a PDF version of the textbook (left) and the viral image (right):

Although the current version of this textbook correctly shows South America, it's possible that the erroneous map was featured in an earlier edition. We reached out to McGraw-Hill Education, who own Glencoe, to find out if this map ever appeared in one of their textbooks but have yet to receive a response.

We can't definitively say that this erroneous map was truly published in an older version of this textbook, but we did come across one clue that suggested as much. A second photograph showing a slightly different iteration of this map was posted to the "failblog" as far back as 2011. The primary difference between these two images (failblog version on the left, viral image on the right) is that the small grey box containing the words "Living Environment ST 1 K1: 1.1a; K3: 3.1a" is only present in the viral image:

In our experience, if an image is fake, usually only one version of that image exists. For instance, we're unlikely to see the same digitally edited road sign pictured from more than one angle. Since at least two versions of this erroneous map image exist, that could be a clue the map truly did appear in an older version of the textbook.

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.