We’re stupid. We get it.
As someone who teaches world geography to college students, I’d be mildly disappointed if my students couldn’t place Ukraine on a world map. But I also understand geography better than the authors of this unimaginative story in the Washington Post, Ivy League political scientists Kyle Dropp, Joshua Kertzer, and Thomas Zeitzoff. The authors have found that people in the US are more likely to want military intervention in Ukraine (though they never say how much more likely) the further away from Ukraine they place it on a map. Modern political scientists try to quantify and regress everything, but they can end up drawing flawed conclusions because they fail in theory. Geographical accuracy cannot be measured on a sliding scale of distance from the truth. Kazakstan, to take an important example, is, in distance, at or beyond the median wrong answer, thus a pretty bad one to the authors. But a deliberate placement in Kazakstan (quite a large cluster here) is actually much, much better than just across the Ukrainian border in southern Russia, which the authors consider a very good answer. Those who chose Kazakstan were choosing a territory that was distinct from Russia (itself an improvement) but with approximately the same spatial relationship, on its southern border, and also just east of a cluster of smaller territories in Europe. Size alone is not much of an indication (note the size of Greenland on this dreadful projection), so can’t really be held against the respondents. Yes, it would be better if all respondents could correctly locate Ukraine on a map, though even I think it is not the height of ignorance that people like to pretend it is. But I’d far rather students understand spatial relationships than do only moderately well in absolute latitude and longitude.
This short study belongs to and was surely inspired by the popular genres Yanks Are Ignorant and Yanks Want To Bomb Things. It is not a very good representation of the second, since those favoring any military intervention in Ukraine are limited to 13% of the respondents. But despite my vested interest, there are many elements of knowledge of the Ukraine crisis that are more important to understanding and judging it than anything having to do with a map. The article is not very good political science, or journalism, or geography. It has a very sharable headline, though ― presumably the point.
― O.T. Ford
Source: Washington Post