Mathematical Malpractice Watch: Why NationMaster Sucks

Graphjam ran a graphic today apparently showing all the awful things the US leads the world in.

It’s crap. It’s clearly produced by someone who spent a few minutes browing nationmaster.com. Nationmaster is convenient but their accuracy is, at best, suspect. There is no uniformity of data and many of the samples are incomplete or old. To be honest, you’re better off going to wikipedia. Much better off.

But beyond that, they just haven’t thought too much. For example, the graphic has has the US as #1 in crime. This is true, but only because we are a large country and a transparent one. The UK has half as many crimes but a fifth of our population. Germany half as many crimes but a quarter of our population. The crime rate in the US is high but not tops. Same goes with rape, which they have as #1. Scandinavian countries lead the civilized world in that (although likely because they measure their rape stats differently).

But a lot of this is the nationmaster problem. They have the US as #1 in CO2 emissions. This is actually wrong as China is #1. US emissions have actually been flat over the last few decades. The nationmaster data are 10 years old — way too far out of date. They also have the US as #1 in divorce rate. This is wrong. Russia is #1.

Teen birth rate? The US is #1 among developed nations. But you have to exclude almost every developing nation in the world to get that ranking. Nationmaster’s data is selective and based on 1994 data. The teen birth rate has plunged since then.

Heart attacks? I haven’t the faintest clue what they’re showing here. But heart attack survival rates have been growing massively in the US.

We do lead the world in McDonald’s restaurants and plastic surgery. That tends to come from being the richest country on Earth. We also, unfortunately, lead the world in both prison population and incarceration rate — yet another wonderful effect of our stupid war on drugs.

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