"People are idiots because they can't locate country X on a map" articles are idiotic

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/01/10/people-are-idiots-because-th.html


What if those in charge of military strategy also can’t find Iran on a map? Seems like people making decisions should be working on at least a basic understanding of the situation and consequences.

While voters really only need to decide who best represents them, we tend to put a lot of effort in collecting voter opinions on the miniutiae of running the country. As long as we’re doing that, we need some pretty high standards in order to weigh those opinions we keep collecting.

Can’t find Iran on a map? Then maybe you aren’t qualified to comment on policies in the middle east. Stick to sharing opinions on broad policies of your favorite representative, because that’s where your opinion actually matters.


Knowing the rough geographic location of a country is a key starting point to understanding its place in history and current events. The fact is that Americans as a whole are and have long been profoundly ignorant and incurious about the larger world, despite being citizens of an imperial power.


Those type of articles are like judging how much someone knows about dental care by asking them if they know how to do the floss dance


Yeah I’m comfortable with knowing where a country is to be step 0.


That’s an interesting point, if in fact Americans are uniquely ignorant. I only ever see these pieces about Americans, and I would be interested to see the average person in, say, the UK pick out various countries on a map. Don’t get me wrong; as an American, I fully accept that a large portion of our populace doesn’t know much about much, but I also know that humans don’t change much country to country.


I agree with the above commenters, there is too much geographic ignorance, especially in the U.S.

But Mark is absolutely correct about one thing: it’s really lazy journalism to report on a poll which demonstrates the geographic ignorance of a population.


The best part about having your own country – especially a large, rich country flanked by 2 oceans – is that Americas as a people generally don’t interact the with the rest of the world. The U.S. is a house in the suburbs, and the apartment complex across town is not their problem. In a certain light, the habit can be viewed as manners of an egalitarian society – don’t be nosy about your neighbors: they have their lives, you worry about yours – writ large.

(Sure, it really is their problem, because there’s a global economy and global threats. But most Americans are long accustomed to not seeing that. Frankly, I’m surprised that the number of Americans with a passport cracked the 30% in my lifetime.)

This is also why most Americans had little idea in what the CIA was doing for about 25 years. It’s not that they don’t care, but they probably didn’t hear about it until several decades after the fact, probably as one of these retrospectives.

What did Americans care about then? The Soviets. In fact, the Iran coup that imposed the Shah in particular was instigated because the British realized 1) they want oil, 2) the Americans will throw bullets at anything that starts with the word “Commu-”, and 3) if you say that Iran is going to not only take back their oil fields, but nationalize them and go communist, then you can use America against Iran. We had a button, the Brits knew it, they pushed it.


And that only because of the post-9/11 travel security measures. In 1990, the number of Americans holding passports was 04%. Now it’s a little over 42%.


The average person in the UK tends by proximity and necessity to be more engaged with other countries. There also aren’t the same critical failures in geography education that are present in the U.S. K-12 system. Of course, the Tories and the fascists there are trying to change all that.


The news should be more like school, is the argument?

That Americans are generally ignorant, and can’t be bothered to learn anything about the world around them not exactly news, I take your point there

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Because what passes as news is rarely out of state (if even that far) on local TV stations and local newspapers and even more rarely out of country even if national TV or newspapers. America (perhaps due to its size) is one of the most parochial countries when it comes to news (and passports, as you say). Why learn about where 100+ countries may be when it’s too hard to even learn where 50 states are?


So we need to know the percentage who have actually used them to travel abroad rather than just as ID papers to travel internally.


This is getting a lot of attention because of how wildly wrong so many of these “guesses” are, but I’m convinced this is just something a graphic designer came up with. People are ignorant about geography, sure, but the number of people who supposedly think Iran is in Arkansas, Greenland, or out in the ocean? I don’t believe they’re that dumb.


The fact that the history and geography about Iran aren’t generally known is not an indication of intelligence but rather lack of real education, the real issue for most of our problems. Education standards should be only ever increasing and financial rewards should be given to all educators and administrators when they do and fines/jail for the top when they go down.


i have seen people in the UK asked where such-and-such state is in the US, and it works the same way. i think a lot of people get stymied when asked out of the blue about stuff like this.


The desire to control and restrict internal domestic travel is being addressed by Real ID only now. Part of me suspects that this is laying the groundwork to prevent internal mass migration when the worst effects of climate change start hitting.

The uptick in passports was related to the new requirements in the mid-2000s for travel in the Americas and Caribbean (resort vacations, cruises, trips to Canada). Those Americans were technically travelling to other countries before 9/11, but weren’t ever really going far outside their cultural comfort zones.


to me it looks like the “poll” asked them to click on Iran on a map. A lot of those could be just “is the map the focused element?” clicks…


Can we define “can’t find on a map”?

Is it a map with no labels? Can’t find as quickly as I can find Pennsylvania on a map which is where I live or in some other amount of time?

If you gave me an unlabeled map of the world I’d be able to find the Middle East but have no need to memorize that region by site. However if the map has labels and they still think it’s in Australia, yeah, that’s a problem.


While I can pick out Iran on a map, as a lifelong US resident I can only correctly identify, at most, two Canadian provinces, so I’m not going to offer too much judgement.