Earth To National Geographic: This isn't Geography

2006-05-04 23:09 - Rants

I just saw a link to the "2006 National Geographic Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy". I put that in quotes because, as I'm about to explain, this survey is barely related to geography. It's quite disappointing, National Geographic. What's up?

What is geography anyways? Well, the Oxford English Dictionary says that it's:

1 the study of the physical features of the earth and of human activity as it relates to these.
2 the relative arrangement of places and physical features.

Thing is, the questions don't relate to geography, except in tenuous remoteness. So, let's go over the questions in this survey.

So what are we to deduce? One: The magazine called "National Geographic" doesn't understand what is and is not geography. Two: if you read through all the survey answers: Americans 18-24 are largely morons. Thank goodness I'm 25, because those kids only got 8 questions over 50% right: numbers 7, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 18, 20. Of course, they got 3 of the 5 actual "geography" questions. I on the other hand got 18 right, missing 4 and 20 (doh, I knew 20!).


Geography is a very broad field of study....
2006-05-05 09:24 - kathaclysm

Let's take a look at another definition: Geography is the study of the Earth and its features and of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life and the effects of human activity.

Geography isn't just where some country is located on a map, it includes all of the above things that these questions pertain to. Just look at what geography majors need to study:

I see nothing wrong with National Geographic's questions, and I do tend to think that a bunch of people who have obviously studied their field, and who work for such a highly acclaimed magazine do know a little more about the subject than the rest of us.

Nothing wrong?
2006-05-05 10:15 - arantius

I see nothing wrong with National Geographic's questions.

Surely, you jest. Where is CSI set? That's geography?

As to your more serious points, I really can't agree. I'll take the OED and Merriam-Webster over Wikipedia any day. Wikipedia is a valuable reference, but is not authoritative. The two dictionaries mentioned have definitions that don't, or barely, include the topics covered in the questions above. The point is that until the "which continent" questions, none of the topics are clearly about geography; they are all more strongly about another field. And, at question 15 where they start, the team clearly ran out of questions, and just filled in the rest to 20 with location trivia.

And finally, just because a "geography major" in college is required to study something, it doesn't make it "geography." I was a computer science major, but I had to take 3 semesters of language, one of religion, a few of literature. If anything, it's a pointer to the fact that geography is really just thinking about other sciences in specific locations; if you don't know all the other topics you can't do much. Just answer trivia questions about populations and the location of various countries and forests.

This is geography!
2006-05-05 22:19 - arantius

Without anything connecting the two, I just found MSNBC's geography quiz. This one is about geography!

Question 11
2006-05-08 12:04 - hunter

You know, I think you got question 11 wrong. Tsunamis have virtually nothing to do with the weather. That is actually a geography question, considering that if you knew the location of the cities, you would realize that Mexico City was much too far from the ocean to be threatened by a tsunami.

Question 11 is about...
2006-05-08 12:16 - arantius

...tsunamis, not geography. Imagine if the question were changed slightly: "Which city would be LEAST likely to be threatened by a mob of angry munchkins?"

Well, if Oz were on the list, you'd know that wasn't the answer. But, it would be because of your knowledge about what a munchkin is, not any of geography.

Likewise with the original question; first you must know what a tsunami is, how it works, and so on. Then, as a piece of secondary knowledge, where the named cities are. The question hinges on the tsunami, not the city. Although geography is eventually involved, it's not what the question is about.

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