Oops! Has Newsweek been mathematically-challenged? UPDATED 18:00
Ilta-Sanomat suggests Finland's and Switzerland's points were muddled up in "Best Country" survey
No sooner have the Finns been told that they inhabit the best country on the planet, according to the American magazine Newsweek (see earlier article), than doubts are being cast on the veracity of the results.
These are not the more obvious doubts, as in whether the methodologies or metrics were skewed in favour of certain countries, but a straightforward and rather embarrassing arithmetical error that would have given the overall points for 2nd-placed Switzerland to Finland, and vice versa.
According to Wednesday's issue of the late-edition tabloid Ilta-Sanomat, the Newsweek compilers have added up the points given for each of the five areas under study - health, education, quality of life, economic dynamism, and political environment - and given Finland a handsome winning average score of 89.31.
Somebody in the Ilta-Sanomat newsroom got out a calculator and crunched the five Finnish numbers and came out instead with a figure of 89.00, which coincidentally was that given to the Swiss runners-up.
A quick check of their numbers revealed that Switzerland should have got 89.31, and the seed of doubt was sown.
Reportedly Newsweek have said they are looking into the matter.
Clearly the diligence and mathematical skills of the Finnish tabloid's staffers are testimony to Finland's superb educational foundation, and possibly if there IS a glitch in the numbers it explains why the United States could only come 26th in that particular category.
In any event, even if we have to take one step down on the podium and look up to the Swiss, the Finnish public have already had plenty of entertainment from the survey: the online message boards have been buzzing both at home and abroad, with Finns piling in on the Newsweek site to pump their fists in triumph, and conversely Americans finding all manner of reasons to explain why their coming 11th was a complete travesty of justice.
One favourite chestnut was that we would all be speaking German (!!), were it not for the American involvement in World War II, and another was that that it was easy for little countries such as Finland to do well, since the US taxpayer was "subsidising their defence".
This last did come as a surprise to some of the Finnish posters, who wondered - as we do - when it was that we joined NATO.
Perhaps it was in the summer while the International Edition was taking a break, which is really very unfair, as nothing much is supposed to happen here during July.
We will now have to wait to see if the "Best Country in the World" gold medal has to be handed over, but at least so far we seem to have passed the dope test.
On the face of it, the dopes would appear to be in Newsweek.
Those Finns, including the country's Foreign Minister, who rejoiced in victory on Tuesday but were cast into the slough of despond by the later news that it might have been Switzerland's day after all, can breathe a sigh of relief.
Newsweek has confirmed to the Finnish News Agency (STT) that Finland did in fact win the "Best Country" accolade, even if the numbers seemed to suggest otherwise.
According to the Newsweek editor in charge of international business and economics coverage Rana Foroohar, the complex calculation methods employed in the comparative survey may have made it look as though runners-up Switzerland scored more points than Finland, but this was not in fact the case, and the result stands.
Earlier a journalist at the Finnish late-edition tabloid Ilta-Sanomat had discovered that adding the numbers for the five different categories gave Switzerland a marginally higher average than Finland.
Newsweek did not initially inform Ilta-Sanomat of exactly how the calculations are supposed to be interpreted.
One salient point is that on the interactive figures Finland now scores not 100 but 102 (!) for education. This naturally adds 0.40 to its average score over five categories, which is now given as 89.40.
Rana Foroohar subsequently explained that Finland had received more points than the apparent maximum for education in an attempt to compensate for an earlier adjustment that was designed to "offset a bias towards more developed nations and account for the great strides made by certain developing nations in recent years". A note to this effect was added to the site's metrics and methodologies section. In the original graphics, Finland had been erroneously listed as scoring 100.
The magazine did not acknowledge that the changes were a cosmetic means of covering up an earlier gaffe, but Foroohar also noted that Newsweek had received a good deal of feedback, both positive and in the form of questions, for example from people in countries not included in the list.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Newsweek ranks Finland as ”best country in the world” (17.8.2010)
Newsweek: An Interactive Infographic of the World´s Best Countries