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Category: Statistics

The general theory, methods, and philosophy of the Science of Guessing What Is.

August 26, 2008 | 26 Comments

Which country did best in the Olympics?

(This analysis was suggested by reader Joy C., who provided a link to the medal tables.)

China, even disregarding its cheating, grabbed the most gold medals (51 to the USA’s next best 36), but the USA took the most overall (110 to China’s next best 100). Either country, then, could be argued the better one depending on whether you value just gold or all medals.

But are there better ways to compare success than raw totals? For example, tiny Jamaica won 11 total medals, while Poland which is over 10 times as populated took only 10. Obviously, countries with enormous populations have a better chance at taking more medals because they have a larger pool of athletes to draw from. China, for example, has over 1.32 billion souls, with the USA has less than their decimal point, with only 305 million. (Population data gathered from Wikipedia.)

Let’s control for a country’s population and re-rank. Here is a table of some of the top countries with the medal totals normalized by population—total medals divided by population in millions. The number “Medals per million” is the number of medals won per million people.

Rank Country Medals per million
1 Bahamas 6.04
2 Jamaica 4.05
3 Iceland 3.16
4 Slovenia 2.46
5 Australia 2.15
6 Cuba 2.13
7 New Zealand 2.11
8 Norway 2.09
9 Armenia 2
10 Belarus 1.96
15 Georgia 1.37
27 Britain 0.77
36 Canada 0.54
37 Russia 0.51
38 Germany 0.5
39 Italy 0.47
40 Spain 0.39
44 United States 0.36
60 Taiwan 0.17
68 China 0.08

The Bahamas tops the list: they won 2 medals with a population of only 330 thousand, an amazing feat, or perhaps I should say with amazing feet since their medals were in running events. Jamaica has 2.7 million people and won 11 medals. Ranking countries this way puts the USA down at number 44, with China not coming in until 68, with Taiwan ahead of it! Incidentally, the BBC site, one of the many hosting medal count tables, fearfully lists Taiwan as “Chinese Taipei”, which is meaningless because Taipei is only one city in Taiwan. China, with the world’s biggest population, can lower their denominator and do better next time if they institute a new Cultural Revolution. Georgia can also take some comfort for coming in well ahead of Russia (15th to 37th place).

Smaller countries also, as a matter of necessity, have to be more focused. Cuba, for example, won the majority of their medals in various martial arts (boxing, judo, and so on; perhaps they’re expecting something after Castro kicks over). The larger countries have entrants in most sports: both Communist China and the USA won their medals in dozens of events.

Here’s another way to look at the same data. This is a plot of the population (note the logarithmic scale) by the total number of medals won.
Population by total medals
Many of the names are tiny and unreadable, but the general drift can be seen: greater populations help win more medals, just as expected. But not always. India ranks in with over a billion residents, but only garnered a couple of medals. Indonesia and Russia are also hugely populated but have few medals to take home.

As always, money helps. Here is the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a rough measure of economic output, by total medal count: (GDP estimated from Wikipedia.)
GDP by total medals
China looks like its GDP is just behind the USA, but it isn’t. For example, Japan is second, Germany third then China. Clearly, though, the more bucks the more bang. But as with population, not always. India’s GDP outstrips South Korea’s and Australia’s but it’s medal total is lower. One of the more interesting things about this graph is the wide range of GDPs: over 6 orders of magnitude!

The next step is to see the joint effect of increasing population and GDP. That’s what this next, more difficult, picture shows:
Population/GDP by total medals
Each dot is a country’s Population and GDP; the number beside it is the number of medals won. Darker circles help guide the eye to higher counts. The highest dozen Populations and the lowest GDPs are highlighted for easier recognition. The double bang received from having lots of people making lots of money is easily seen, but the relationship is not perfect.

I am not trying to predict the medal counts for the next Olympics, hence this is no real statistical model. To build one would require the data from previous Olympics, summer and winter, tracking the number of events, the changes in politics and inflation and on and on. Too much work and in the end there would be too much uncertainty that the model proposed is valid. Showing the data plainly is the fairest procedure.

Just for fun, and having nothing to do with the Olympics, here are the top and bottom 10 countries of dollars made per person (GDP divided by population). You can think of this as a sort of measure of citizen efficiency.

Rank Country Dollars made per citizen
1 Luxembourg 104,000
2 Norway 82,000
3 Qatar 81,000
4 Iceland 63,000
5 Ireland 58,000
6 Denmark 57,000
7 Switzerland 56,000
8 Sweden 49,000
9 Netherlands 47,000
10 Finland 46,000
159 Myanmar 270
160 Eritrea 270
161 Malawi 250
162 Ethiopia 250
163 Guinea-Bissau 200
164 Liberia 190
165 Congo 160
166 Burudi 120
167 North Korea 93
168 Zimbabwe 48

The USA makes the list at number 12 with about 45-thousand per person. England at number 11 is just about the same, mere dollars ahead. Non-Arabic Africa is at the bottom of all of these lists.

Of course, Luxemborg and Norway, at the top of this list, have less people that live in my neighborhood, so it isn’t entirely interesting. The largest population of the top 10 goes to Netherlands, which is equal to the population of Manhattan. Oh, the well run European countries! we often hear. But they are so tiny! Zimbabwe, the very bottom of the list, has about 13 million people with a paltry 48 bucks per head. North Korea’s population is estimated at about 24 million, but that was before last year’s winter, so their total dollars per capita could increase next year in that communist paradise.

August 25, 2008 | 4 Comments

The Pathetic Madonna

The insane level of self-regard and idiotic self-indulgent behavior we accept from our celebrities should embarrass us.

There will always be utterly spoiled brats, but that these blots on humanity should be elevated to glorified status such that they are never held accountable for their tantrums is mind boggling.

The disrespectfully-self-named teen-music singer ‘Madonna’ is the latest in an unfortunately long and growing line of such luminaries. At a concert away from her home country yesterday, she played a song, apparently autobiographical, entitled “Get Stupid”, during which John McCain’s “image was flashed up alongside images of destruction and global warming and of Hitler and Mugabe” (from MSN news.)

This is no different than a rotten child going into the home of another and disparaging and disowning her family because she was denied a treat. It is pathetic, cowardly and ordinarily induces disgust on those who witness the spectacle.

But not if that person is a celebrity. Then, even though fans know better, they reach with all their might to seek justification and a reasonable explanation of their idol’s outburst. They should shun the woman, but they don’t want to deny themselves the small entertainment they receive from the simplistic music, so they relax their own morals. In short, the fans only think of their own pleasures, thus effectively mimicking what they have seen.

Well, all that is not new or even unexpected nowadays. This sort of thing is so common that my indignation probably seems out of place and reactionary.

What makes it worse is the reporting. Try Googling “Madonna Hitler” and you will see numerous headlines like this: “McCain camp blasts Madonna’s Hitler dig,” and “McCain staff slams ‘outrageous’ comparison with Hitler by Madonna.” Note the scare quotes around outrageous which, as the philosopher David Stove has taught us, means “not really outrageous but thought by so-and-so to be outrageous.”

The reporters, people who we are repeatedly told are well educated and discerning, cannot bring themselves to say what is obvious. They instead blame the “controversy”, using their best questions-were-raised style of empty prose, and say it is McCain’s staff that is having the problem.

August 22, 2008 | 3 Comments

Reportorial entrails and other auguries

“The VP speculation continues” is the headline of the day.

Some reporters camped out at Senator Joe Biden’s house and discovered he had visited a bank and a clothing store. This caused trembling and angst. What do these signs mean? Could Biden be withdrawing cash just in case he’ll soon be far from home? And maybe he bought a new tie at that clothing store! And where do you wear ties? At press conferences, such as those announcing VP picks.

Meanwhile, other pundits wonder if the Great Leg Tingler hasn’t really chosen his VP after all, and that he only said so to stall for time.

Are reporters as thick headed as they appear?

Not one of these bright journalism-school graduates hit upon the most likely reason for the delayed announcement: The longer the deferral the more free air time the Leg Tingler gets. They are being led by the nose and not one of them has the guts to say so.

Note carefully that I am not faulting the Democrat nominee: he is doing just as he should, and nothing less than his opponent will soon do. I am instead dismayed at the simple mindedness of the media—yes, even despite all evidence that I should have expected no less.

August 21, 2008 | 34 Comments

Suicides increase due to reading atrocious global warming research papers

I had the knife at my throat after reading a paper by Preti, Lentini, and Maugeri in the Journal of Affective Disorders (2007 (102), pp 19-25; thanks to Marc Morano for the link to World Climate Report where this work was originally reported). The study had me so depressed that I seriously thought of ending it all.

Before I tell you what the title of their paper is, take a look at these two pictures:

temperature in Italy 1974 to 2003
number of suicides in Italy 1974 to 2003

The first is the yearly mean temperature from 1974 to 2003 in Italy: perhaps a slight decrease to 1980-ish, increasing after that. The second pictures are the suicide rates for men (top) and women (bottom) over the same time period. Ignore the solid line on the suicide plots for a moment and answer this question: what do these two sets of numbers, temperature and suicide, have to do with one another?

If you answered “nothing,” then you are not qualified to be a peer-reviewed researcher in the all-important field of global warming risk research. By failing to see any correlation, you have proven yourself unimaginative and politically naive.

Crack researchers Preti and his pals, on the other hand, were able to look at this same data and proclaim nothing less than Global warming possibly liked to an enhanced risk of suicide.” (Thanks to BufordP at FreeRepublic for the link to the on-line version of the paper.)

How did they do it, you ask? How, when the data look absolutely unrelated, were they able to show a concatenation? Simple: by cheating. I’m going to tell you how they did it later, but how—and why—they got away with it is another matter. It is the fact that they didn’t get caught which fills me with despair and gives rise to my suicidal thoughts.

Why were they allowed to publish? People—and journal editors are in that class—are evidently so hungry for a fright, so eager to learn that their worst fears of global warming are being realized, that they will accept nearly any evidence which corroborates this desire, even if this evidence is transparently ridiculous, as it is here. Every generation has its fads and fallacies, and the evil supposed to be caused by global warming is our fixation.

Below, is how they cheated. The subject is somewhat technical, so don’t bother unless you want particulars. I will go into some detail because it is important to understand just how bad something can be but still pass for “peer-reviewed scientific research.” Let me say first that if one of my students tried handing in a paper like Preti et alia’s, I’d gently ask, “Weren’t you listening to anything I said the entire semester!”

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