A recent article in The Guardian, “Your Moons are Rubbish, Astronomer tells Christmas Card Artists“, by science Ian Sample was entertaining but also raised several serious scientific questions. Peter Barthel from the Kapteyn Astronomical Institute at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands wrote an article for the journal Communicating Astronomy with The Public on astronomical realism in holiday cards. He found that many cards depicted the moon in ways that were not realistic for the time of night being portrayed. When asked “so what?”, he thinks that realism adds to instead of detracts from the wonder and “Moreover, understanding leads to knowledge which lasts”.
His remarks started me thinking about how geography is portrayed in greeting cards and what are the most common themes. The National Environmental Education Foundation has a good handout on the difference between the North Poles, the Antarctic, the Artic and how polar bears and penguins don’t live together in the same place. In order to conduct my own informal research, I went to Blue Mountain Cards and Hallmark Cards online to review all of their cards for geographic fallacies. I gave up after the first few pages because of the predominant lack of geography in the cards.