June 8, 2007

The world in your pocket

I enjoy immensely looking at random data points about the world. As a much younger geek I would actually read the encyclopedia (I was an only child until 9). One of my favourite sources is the 2006 Pocket World in Fugures from the folks who produce The Economist.
It's always a hoot to read through, because the results are often surprising, sometimes maddening, and always enlightening. For example, the country with the highest crime rate in the world is...Iceland. Now there's a surprise! Smug Canadians will be humbled to learn that Canada ranks 8th for highest crime rate, while the USA ranks 17th. Although, those same smug folks will relish the fact that the USA has the world's largest prison population, both overall and per 100,000.
Our American friends can boast that the USA dominates 5 of the 6 categories for the Nobel prize, just barely edged out by France for total winners for literature. The USA also dominates the world in books and music sales. But while the USA spends the most as a percentage of its GDP on health spending, its male population ranks 4th and its female population 10th globally for obesity; and it only ranks 40th (alongside Portugal) for highest life expectancy. In comparison, Canada ranks 11th for health spending, 27th for male obesity, and 8th for highest life expectancy.
It's striking to read about television consumption, literacy rates, population density, and a country's innovation index. This is a great introduction to that state of our world, and is a starting point to understanding the systems of inequalities that perpetuate these facts and figures. Obviously, it's crucial to understand that such figures don't explain the world, they merely reflect it as it is currently. I find it fascinating to think through the data to the underlying causes and possibilities for change.

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