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us damascus data journalism department of defense

The US Department of Defense isn’t sure where Damascus is: statistical proof

You’d expect folks in the US Department of Defense to know the location of the place they’re probably about to bomb.

Well, yesterday we made a game about guessing where Damascus is, and only 57% of the answers we got from inside the DoD were right.

In total, more than 100,000 people played the game. Here’s what we found out:

The majority of people do know where Damascus is.

More than 50% of our players guessed within 200 miles. Given the zoomed-out satellite map and inaccurate input methods like smartphones, we count that as spot on.

  • Texans were slightly worse than everyone else - 49.3% got it correct compared to the world average of 52.5%.
  • Mac users are much worse than Linux users - 52% of Mac users got it correct, while Linux users got 57.7%.
  • Readers of the Independent are massively more well-read than the rest of the internet — or, rather, they got a big spoiler of where to click in their articles. 64.3% got it spot on.
  • Buzzfeed readers are worse at geography than the average user of the internet. Only 49.7% were within 200 miles. To make that worse, Buzzfeed readers were told where to click by being shown a map in the article and they still did worse than average.

Where else did people guess Damascus was?

The number of accurate guesses is high enough that we have to filter them out in order to see the rest of the results. Zoom, enhance:

(The mottling effect is an artifact caused by people who played with the map zoomed-out)

Note that the game uses a satellite map, which doesn’t include national boundaries, so a little bit of border-blurring is forgivable. Still, some interesting patterns formed:

  • Greece: We can understand splots all over the Middle East, but why are so many people hitting Greece by mistake? Our theory: Greece is much further east than you’d think. Or at least than you’d think if you didn’t know European geography.
  • East of the Caspian Sea: We reckon that people vaguely remembered that Damascus is on a western shore, but flubbed which particular sea it is. After all, it couldn’t be the friendly old Mediterranean, where we all go on our holidays…
  • Libya and Egypt: These got peppered pretty badly. People seem aware there’s trouble in that part of the world and just plopped a marker down in some sort of vague trouble spot.

Zoom, enhance:

In the US, if we turn up the gain a bit, you can also see two other hotspots…

…the cities of Damascus, Oregon and Damascus, Maryland. Yes, yes, very clever.

And finally, a bit of politics

We received 139 guesses from inside the Houses of Parliament. We can only hope that some of them are in jest.

We also had 65 guesses from within the US Department of Defense… and they’re statistically worse. 57% got it right at the DoD, compared to 64% in the houses of Parliament.

And the folks in the DoD haven’t gone for blatantly wrong places; instead they’re still guessing all over the Middle East. We don’t think they’re joking.

An earlier version of this post said “Damascus, Virginia” instead of “Damascus, Maryland”, in what seems to be a corollary of Muphry’s Law. We regret the rather ironic error.

  • 4:38pm Aug 30, 2013
  • 15 notes