Map Idolatry

Are we putting too much stock in “the map” and not enough in “the information”? We seem to do that with the earliest petroglyphs through more contemporary Mylar surveys and the digital recording of thirty seconds ago. What is the point of every map? I come up with two functions. Memorializing information and instructing folks where to recover that information. After a successful treasure map leads you to the gold nary a rich pirate will argue whether it was 20 paces or 25 paces by map. At your next chapter meeting ask why we rely on the numbers from the GLO plat to fervently proclaim every other bonafide survey is inferior but we adamantly deny the validity of any distances and directions compiled in the GIS. They are both just maps, right? After you pull the arrows out of your chest then ask what is the basis of your local GIS PLSS layer? There’s a good chance it’s the original GLO plats and their exact dimensions, oohhh but that can’t be trusted. We can have our fun with that heaven and hell irony but seriously and for those who don’t know better, heed that GIS disclaimer and respect our authoritative plats.

Somewhere between the first scribbles on rock and the latest Core i7 processor, mankind, nay “surveykind” adopted a theology of false idolatry with maps. Ironically the same surveyor that claims GIS is the antichrist will dwell on some sort of vestal virginity of a GLO plat. In reality neither reveals a useable precision much better than 1 part per “about here”. However both are jam packed and jelly tight full of information related to a particular spot on the ground. The plat of course has the magic of “authority” behind it. Enough authority for us to forgive its shortcomings and stretch its numbers to fit the ground with barely a second thought. Conversely rubber sheeting in GIS is the God’s honest end to humanity according to some. In a true bounds system there are no overlaps. Nor, theoretically, in a simultaneous subdivision. It’s not until somebody tries to force an imaginary line on the ground that things get sideways. The false idolatry of a plat comes into play when a surveyor feels that prescribed methods are the sole notice of lines described in grants. Some folks even speculate that a platted illusion never marked on the ground during the original survey somehow served invisible notice and the owners were prohibited from adopting a position to make a grant work. The courts say otherwise.

If GIS has only done one favor to mankind it’s showing that our historic cadastral accounting methods yield a low order of precision in gross. GIS PLSS layers start at some initial point and accumulate every allowable tolerance in every chain from east jesus to your clients back yard. Local surveys are cobbled together considering nothing more than the immediate adjoiners. Every bastardization of projected coordinates has been tossed in the stew as well. Then we cram them down to sea level and have the nerve to put this plastic fruit in front of a starving public. What’s missing from this rant thus far? Reality! I’m inclined to believe that the best representation of the ground might just be the ground itself. The aerial backdrop reveals the visible evidence of the public’s silent and collective representation of their boundary lines. We know that boundaries happen on the ground and plats merely represent those actions. The purpose of the paper is just to pass the message.

About the Author

Jason Foose

Jason Foose is a Professional Surveyor licensed in multiple jurisdictions.