DJ Showcase: LiveMint (11 AUGUST 2014)

Were the Afghan elections rigged?

From the headline, it looks like yet another political story from Afghanistan. But take a closer look and you will find it it one of the finest examples of data journalism. The fact that it is in an Indian newspaper and that too, one that primarily covers business and economy, just adds to its charm.

There are several reasons why we like this one so much.

First of all, it sets the expectation straight away. The blurb says what it is: one popular method used to determine whether a data set is doctored is to look at the last digits of the values. The simple sentence does two things: it raises the interest level of those looking forward to a data story; at the same time, it turns away those who are uncomfortable with data but are looking for a spicy story on some new evidence of malpractice being caught on camera. In short, it sets an accurate expectation. That is good journalism.

Second, and that is primarily the reason why it is here is that it actually tests the limits of data journalism. While most data journalism stories are about analyzed results, it is about nature of data sets.  While most are about data analysis, itis about statistics and yes, probability.  It looks at elections data in India, Iran and Afghanistan to suggest that elections in Iran and Afghanistan were probably rigged at the counting stage.


In an election, for example, there is no reason that the distribution of the last digits of the vote counts of various candidates should not be uniform—given the large number of votes that each candidate gets, the last digit is essentially random, and there is no reason that the probability of a 1 in the units place is more than that of a 2 in the units place. Thus, in a free and fair election, it is likely that the last digit is distributed uniformly.

Third, and this aspect often ignored by new age data journalism champions, many of who understand data very well but are not familiar with the basic promises of good journalism. And that is: you have to be fair and balanced, even if that takes a little interest away from the story. You cannot sacrifice these basic journalism values to make a story more interesting. This story adds the ‘note of caution’ in a very clear and prominent way.

Finally, a note of caution. There are several ways in which an election can be rigged. Speaking broadly, it can be rigged at either the voting or the counting stages. This method of looking at the last digits only gives us an indication of the probability of rigging in the counting stages. Methods such as “ballot stuffing” (reportedly not uncommon in India) cannot be caught with such methods.

Great work.


The Contours of A Mobile World

ITU has released its latest ICT indicators database for June 2014. This is updated with 2013 numbers for most indicators.

According to the data, global mobile subscriptions will be just short of 7 billion mark in 2014, standing at 6.9 billion. The total mobile subscriptions in 2013 stood at 6.6 billion.

That is as many as 93.1 mobiles per every 100 inhabitants. The figure will go up to 95.5 in 2014, according to ITU.

A little analysis reveals interesting insights.

  • Among the ten countries with highest mobile subscriptions base, six are in Asia.
  • Top ten countries account for 58% of the total mobile subscriptions
  • Chinese regions (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao) and the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Maldives) together account for 37% of the world’s mobile subscriptions. 
  • The world has 32 mobile broadband connections for 100 inhabitants. The developed-developing country divide is significant here. In the developed world, the figure stands at 83.7 while in the developing world, it stands at just 21.1.

Here are some important figures regarding mobile telephony.

Growth in global mobile subscriptions continues, with no signs of either slowing down or accelerating.

The mobile densities across countries vary significantly, though. Here is a world map depicting number of mobile subscriptions per 100 inhabitants. Those with dark red have the lowest density and those with dark green have the highest density of mobile subscribers.  Just hover over the country to get the absolute value.

However, two countries are dominant leaders: China and India. With Indonesia almost catching up with the USA, it is a matter of few months before the three largest mobile countries would be in Asia.

Some countries have seen significant growth during the last 12 years, when the world changed to a mobile world. Here is a list of countries which recorded the maximum growth between 2001 to 2013.

And this is how the mobile density of world’s largest emerging economies (BRICS) grew.

So, which are the best countries in the world?

Best…in what sense? Across what parameters? The question sounds too naive, too simplistic.

But it may not be. Going by data—the only thing we swear by—indeed, some countries may be better than rest of us in almost all areas, across all parameters.

DataJourno decided to carefully compare countries across measurable parameters in different aspects of life, society and economy. But instead of getting into individual data points, we decided to bank on already established systems that exist—in the form of global rankings and ratings.

By doing this,

  1. we avoided trying to reinvent the wheel, with our limited knowledge in many of those areas
  2. we avoided getting caught in standardization issues
  3. we short-circuited on time
  4. we banked on the credibility and quality of these ratings, which have only become better over the years.

After going through several such lists, we zeroed in on six such global rankings that are most credible and respected.They measure competitiveness, economic freedom, natural environment, human development, integrity of people, and quality of life. Of course, we went by their latest ranking, without trying to standardize on year. That would have made us take older rankings in many cases just because one list is older.

These lists are

  • Global Competitiveness Ranking by World Economic Forum 2013-14
  • United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index Rankings 2012
  • Transparency International Corruption Perception Index 2013
  • The Economist Intelligence Unit Where To Be Born (earlier called Quality of Life) Index 2013
  • The Heritage Foundation-Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom 2014
  • Yale University Environment Performance Index 2014

The last two are comparatively new  and probably not as established as the other other four. But we still decided to include them as both these (economic freedom and environment) are important parameters and they are clearly the best in class, when it comes to those categories.

We decided to look at the top 20 ranking countries in each of those lists.

And this is what we found.

  • There are just 38 countries in this list of lists, which could potentially have 120 countries, if there was no overlap. A list of 60-80 would have meant fairly good overlap. A list of just 38 means a very high overlap.
  • If you remove all such countries that feature among top 20 in just one of the lists, there are 24 countries that feature in two or more lists.
  • There are as many as 12 countries that feature in 5 or 6 lists. Out of which, five countries (Singapore, Sweden, Netherlands, Denmark, Germany) feature in all the lists.

So, why can’t we call these five (or even for that matter, these 12), the world’s best countries? 

Here is a tabular summary of the country ranking.


In short, some countries are better than others in almost all respects.

But the bigger conclusion is: the parameters probably have a stronger correlation than we think they have.

Based on this, we create a composite ranking, giving equal weightage to all parameters. We decided to look at just the rankings and not the scores, as scores are not easily comparable, the scales being different.

Based on their ranks in all the lists, this is how the overall top 20 looks like.

  1. Singapore (features in all the 6 lists)
  2. Australia (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  3. Switzerland (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  4. Sweden (features in all the 6 lists)
  5. Netherlands (features in all the 6 lists)
  6. Norway (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  7. Denmark (features in all the 6 lists)
  8. Germany (features in all the 6 lists)
  9. Hong Kong (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  10. New Zealand (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  11. Finland (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  12. United States (features in 5 of the 6 lists)
  13. Canada (features in 4 of the 6 lists)
  14. Ireland (features in 4 of the 6 lists)
  15. United Kingdom (features in 4 of the 6 lists)
  16. Luxembourg (features in 3 of the 6 lists)
  17. Austria (features in 4 of the 6 lists)
  18. Japan (features in 3 of the 6 lists)
  19. Belgium (features in 4 of the 6 lists) & Iceland (features in 3 of the 6 lists)

As one can see, though richer countries do better, it is not necessarily smaller versus bigger. The US, Germany, Japan, UK, Canada and Australia feature in the list as do Luxembourg, Hong Kong and Singapore.

Here is a visual representation of how balanced the top countries look, across different parameters.



The more regular a graph looks, the more balanced is the country across parameters.