Monday, February 11, 2013

The world's most educated countries: on the dangers of big data and infographics

In recent weeks I have received, unsolicited invitations to review infographics on topics related to my blogs.  The most recent of these, late in January, was from a woman who had created an infographic on "the world's most educated countries."  As with the other solicitations, she asked me to review the graphic and consider posting it on my blog, with a link to or attribution of the original source.   The problem was, as I quickly discovered, the infographic was based on faulty data, incorrect interpretation of data or both.  The infographic claimed to be based on OECD data, but when I saw a world map near the top of the graphic that ranked South Korea #6 among the world's most educated nations, I became suspicious.   I am deliberately not linking to the infographic, which is still accessible on the internet, not wanting to contribute further to misinformation.
Investigating the matter further, the infographic appears to have been published by what amounts to an education-related "content farm."  The site claims to be a global leading news source covering educational, political, business and environmental issues, but it has all the signs of being a content farm, and for that reason I am not identifying or linking to it here.
Those of you who are interested in genuine data and analysis on the world's leading education powers will want to take a look at the latest report from The Learning Curve, a joint project of Pearson and the Economist Intelligence Unit.  As shown in the accompanying screen capture, (click to see a larger version)it places South Korea right where it should be, number two overall behind Finland, in its world education rankings.

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