know your geography

22 November 2002

if there was any space left on the page it’d be easy to subtitle the national geographic-roper 2002 global geographic literacy survey (enough of a mouthful by itself i think) as “ooh, look at those dumb americans” but i’m sorry to say that britons do just about as badly. i do have to wonder what rock the 42% of young americans who couldn’t figure out that the taliban and al qaeda were based in afghanistan have been hiding under. at least only 16% of young britons didn’t know that.

i agree with kevan that an abstract notion of geography is good enough for most purposes and there are a few countries in the survey that i wouldn’t have pinpointed correctly if i hadn’t have had a limited number of choices to choose between (i imagine the original survey takers had to pick off the whole map). as is usual with any survey i have complaints about the results and want more information. so 80% of americans don’t know which country iraq is in, we’ve no way of knowing how many of them knew more or less where it was but couldn’t pinpoint the exact right bit of land.

another complaint is with the conclusion that

Americans who reported that they accessed the Internet within the last 30 days scored 65 percent higher than those who did not. as i would expect to find that this has more to do with the education levels of people who use the internet than the internet itself. though to be fair to national geographic they don’t start screaming that this means the internet makes you brighter as lesser publications might.

my overall feeling from the bits of the survey i saw was that sweden and canada had the most geographically literate populations but the conclusions say that canada did badly and that germans and italians were up there with the swedes.

the bit that’s really thrown me is wondering what the cultural differences are that make mexican’s really bad at figuring out which way is west!