This rather beautiful map from the guys at https://informationisbeautiful.net has been doing the rounds. Now let’s be clear – I love their work, and have often used their stuff in presenting examples of compelling visualisations. Part of what makes data compelling is the narrative – when it tells a story. And this chart certainly does beguile – with such fabulous nuggets as France being top for Whisky consumption (a nugget so shocking that I checked with my brother who “works int the trade” and vouched that it’s true), or Canada, once listed as top for personal freedom, but since downgraded so that it is now top for Doughnuts.
This is of course only a bit of fun. But the chart does promote a falsehood. The instinctive sense is that each characteristic is the highlight for that country. This isn’t really true – instead, of the many things that that country might be “top” at, an arbitrary measure has been chosen. Indeed it’s entirely possible that a country comes “top” in a narrowly contested field, while other fields, much more widely distributed, is not mentioned. But this graph instinctively urges you to think “number one thing, given country”, rather than “country of number one, given [random] thing”.
For example – the UK is apparently “best for billionaires” *. A very different story could have been told if they’d chosen a different metric, rather than that arbitrary, but incendiary, issue. For example, two stats shortlisted by ttps://informationisbeautiful.net but not used: the UK is the most transparent government in the world. Or maybe, as balance to that surprising stat about whisky, that the UK is the largest export market for champagne.
Statistics are fun. But they can be misleading.
* This is apparently drawn from https://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/may/11/britain-worlds-most-billionaires-per-capita . Whiel these things are pretty difficult to measure, it’s almost certainly not true, with the UK eclipsed not only by smaller countries such as Hong Kong and the UAE, but also countries such as Germany and Switzerland (see https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/15/the-countries-with-the-most-billionaires.html)