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Random fact roundup, March 19th—26th, 2018!

What do hot dogs, the Vatican, and the Large Hadron Collider have in common? They're all in our random fact roundup where we bring you some favorite facts about three subjects.

Fast Food

— Hamburgers originated in and get their name from Hamburg, Germany. Nobody is quite sure when the first one was cooked, but a recipe for something similar to a modern hamburger appeared in that part of the world towards the end of the 1800s, with the first supposed burger in America in 1885. The humble hamburger gained in popularity and was nationwide by 1905, with several regional varieties.


— During World War I, the American government attempted to rename the hamburger as the "liberty sandwich" due to anti-German sentiment. The name didn't stick, but "hot dog" stuck around. Before, they were called Frankfurters. 

— Hot dogs in America can be directly traced back to the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, where two recent immigrants from Vienna,  Emil Reichel and Sam Ladany,  sold them. It was a hit. They formed a company called Vienna Beef which still operates today. 

— The Chicago hot dog (slice of tomato, poppy seed bun, white onion, sweet pickle relish, a slice of kosher dill pickle, celery salt, and sport peppers) was originally called the Depression Sandwich and can be attributed to a restaurant called Fluky's around the time of the stock market crash of 1929. 

Hadron Colliders 

— The heat generated by smashing up the particles at hyper-speeds can sometimes get up to 100,000 times hotter than our sun. In theory, this is close to the heat of the universe a few moments after the Big Bang occurred. 

— In 2009, the CERN Hadron Collider had to shut down after a bird dropped a "bit of baguette" (don't forget much of the machine is in France) onto one of the power stations, causing a short-circuit. 

— Before it was finished, many thought that operations at the CERN Large Hadron Collider would cause the destruction of Earth itself, due to the potential to create microscopic black holes.

— Technically, the CERN Hadron Collider could be considered the world's largest refrigerator. All the magnets used have to be cooled to -193.2ºC. 

The Vatican 

— The Vatican consumes more wine per capita than any other country, with 74 liters drank per citizen per year, according to several British newspapers. There are about 1,000 people who live in the Vatican year round. The wine intake isn't due to communions, however, as most people might think. Most of the people who live and work in the Vatican tend to be older men who eat in large groups... and those guys consume double the amount that the rest of Europe drinks. Communion does factor in, but at a far smaller percentage. 

— Vatican City was created in 1929 to ensure it operated within its own jurisdiction. It is within the Holy See, which is an independent sovereign nation, separate from Italy, but within Rome. Sort of like a Turducken.

— The Vatican has its own astronomical research wing. It was started in 1774 and located mostly within the Holy See. The Vatican owns, funds, and operates a massive telescope called the VATT (Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope) in Mt Graham, Arizona. It's a pretty significant telescope, too: it's responsible for finding MACHOs (Massive Compact Halo Objects) in the Andromeda Galaxy, and even evidence that galaxies change shape over time. 

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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