No map of the world is perfect, since the surface of a sphere cannot be projected onto a flat surface without some degree of distortion. For hundreds of years, the most popular projection of the planet's surface onto a flat map was the Mercator projection, even though it seriously distorted the relative sizes of many countries. For example, Mercator maps show Greenland to be roughly the same size as Africa, when, in reality, Africa is actually fourteen times larger. Africa also looks considerably smaller than Russia on a Mercator map, even though Africa is actually 33% larger. However, generations of navigators weren't bothered much by Mercator's misrepresentations, since they cared most about longitude and latitude, which the Mercator projection handles rather well.

In 1974, a historian and cartographer named Dr. Arno Peters introduced a map which projected the world onto an equal and consistent grid, which made it possible to accurately compare the sizes of countries and visualize the true distance between any two points on the earth. For those who grew up with the Mercator map, the Peters projection map appears to be stretched vertically, and Africa suddenly looks huge.

A variety of social and religious groups fervently argue that since the Mercator map makes many countries appear smaller than they really are, people (especially children) reading them may infer that certain countries are innately more important than others. This rhetoric has often escalated to the point where the Mercator map is openly described as being "racist". Many of these groups are working to address this perceived problem by lobbying schools around the world to adopt the Peters projection map in classrooms. This seemingly noble movement is not without controversy, however, since educators, well-aware of the Mercator map's deficiencies, were already adopting maps based on other projections, some of which are even more accurate than Peters's. Others argue that Arno Peters wasn't even the first person to devise such a projection, since James Gall had come up with the same idea in 1855 (which is why some refer to it as the Gall-Peters projection).

The movement to promote the Peters projection map got a big boost when it was featured on an episode of the second season of NBC's Emmy-winning show, The West Wing, entitled "Somebody's Going to Emergency, Somebody's Going to Jail", which aired on February 28th, 2001.