Department of Awful Statistics

More

That widely circulated map showing that the US "human development index" varies widely by state and, oddly enough, just happens to show that the most liberal states generally have the most developed human beings, turns out to be bunk.  I'll let James Joyner summarize:



It turns out that the "index" considers only three elements:  Life expectancy at birth, Adult literacy and education, and a variant of GDP per capita.   It turns out that the first two of these are so uniform across the 50 states as to be negligible, making the last the main determinant of the ranking.  Additionally, Mississippi's .799 makes it just barely fit into the arbitrary color breakdowns, making it appear to those looking at the map to be massively less "developed" than West Virginia and Louisiana, at .800 and .801, respectively.

What Gelman does not add is that "the natural logarithm of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita at purchasing power parity (PPP) in United States dollars" is actually a rather poor measure of "standard of living" given that it's not normalized for local housing prices.

Does anyone really think that there's a significantly different level of "development" between North and South Carolina?  Or that Michigan is better off than Missouri?

Joyner adds:  "This is yet another instance of a trend that I've long found aggravating: the ordinal ranking of relatively similar bodies to create the illusion of substantial disparity.  We usually see it in the form of international comparisons, which have the United States ranked 35th on some attribute despite being essentially the same as the country ranked 1st. "

Blue states are indeed richer.  But presumably the liberals who gave this map link love don't think per capita GDP is actually a really good measure of human development.




Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Social Security: The Greatest Government Policy of All Time?

It's the most effective anti-poverty program in U.S. history. So why do some people hate it?


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In