25 August 2004

That's gold Jerry, gold

Bump pointed me to a site that compared a country's number of Olympic medals to its population. The intent is that population size should be considered when ranking how successful countries were at the Olympics. Australia and Slovakia have a clear lead, with the US in 30th place.

There are some good discussions going on in the comments: Slovakians are cheering and Americans are crying foul. Well, it's not that clear-cut, but it's close. The biggest foul being called is that looking at no other factor than number of medals may be flawed, but adding population to that calculation is only slightly less flawed. What about economics? What about education?

In my opinion, adding population makes the information much more accurate. Given a larger pool of people, as the original poster said, your odds for better athletes increases. Economics and education only come after that. Jared Diamond, in his book Guns, Germs, and Steel, put forth a similar argument as to why a more dominant civilization came out of the West. Land and climate in the fertile crescent and across the Mediterranean allowed denser populations. Those populations thrived both internally and through competition, creating more varied and robust societies. If there were fewer people in those regions, the chance would diminish not only that a tool would be invented but also that it would be used and propagated to others.

This doesn't mean that countries with lower populations are destined to be ineffectual. It just means that they must find other means to overcome the lack of human resources.

[ posted by sstrader on 25 August 2004 at 12:01:11 PM in Culture & Society ]