What’s Your Country Best in the World At?

It might not be what you expect

Every country is the best at something; even if it’s a bad thing, like murder, child marriages or spam email. 


The aptly-named Information is Beautiful website has sifted through piles of data from the UN, the CIA, the Guardian and a bunch of other places to compile a world map that awards a gold star to just about every country on the planet (1).  

The accolades come in nine different types: Commodity (pink), Psychology (light blue), Ecology (green), Gastronomy (purple), Economy (gray), Nicety (yellow), Humanity (dark blue), Technology (red) and Nasty (black). 

Some firsts are expected, or at least not surprising: Sweden is #1 in pop music, North Korea has more soldiers relative to its population than any other country, Cuba leads in doctors per capita and Afghanistan is the world capital of opium production. 

Other world records we are storing for that pub quiz to end all pub quizzes. Fastest wifi: Lithuania. Most Facebook addicts: Canada. Most Scrabble players: Nigeria. Most languages: Zimbabwe. 

Most diamonds per capita: Botswana.

And then there are those records are that surprising, or even downright shocking. Did you know that the biggest whisky-drinkers in the world are… the French? Or that the biggest cheese-eaters are… the Greeks? That nobody consumes more gay porn than… Pakistan? Or that most brazil nuts are produced by… Bolivia? (Brazil itself beats everybody else in sugar production).  

Healthiest people on the planet: Singaporeans

Scoring a distinction in the black category is a reverse compliment. Which country wants to be first in murders? None – but the accolade goes to Honduras nonetheless. Similar blemishes on national records are noted for Namibia (most car crashes), Eritrea (most child labour), China (most jailed journalists) and Mongolia (most velociraptors – although that can’t be a current problem. Can it?)

World’s most positive people: Paraguayans

 

 

Looking at the map, one can’t help but feel that some countries could definitely benefit from being introduced to each other. Like Colombia (most happiness) and Togo (most unhappiness), Spain (highest LGBT tolerance) and Georgia (most homophobes), and Zambia (most female entrepreneurs) and Yemen (most gender inequality).

World-leading innovators: the Swiss

 

Talking of which, these stats may be fairly random, but there does appear to be something good going on in East Africa re gender equality: most female entrepreneurs, but also most female workers and most women in parliament. 

And the U.S.? It leads the world in… spam emails. Take that, Nigeria!

Map found here at Information is Beautiful. Many thanks to Tanja Rutten for sending it in.

Strange Maps #812

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com

(1) Every country? No. As the compilers explain, “If your country is not on the image, it’s either because a) we couldn’t fit it in, or b) we couldn’t find something your nation is the best at (sorry!)”

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New fossils suggest human ancestors evolved in Europe, not Africa

Experts argue the jaws of an ancient European ape reveal a key human ancestor.

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  • The jaw bones of an 8-million-year-old ape were discovered at Nikiti, Greece, in the '90s.
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Homo sapiens have been on earth for 200,000 years — give or take a few ten-thousand-year stretches. Much of that time is shrouded in the fog of prehistory. What we do know has been pieced together by deciphering the fossil record through the principles of evolutionary theory. Yet new discoveries contain the potential to refashion that knowledge and lead scientists to new, previously unconsidered conclusions.

A set of 8-million-year-old teeth may have done just that. Researchers recently inspected the upper and lower jaw of an ancient European ape. Their conclusions suggest that humanity's forebearers may have arisen in Europe before migrating to Africa, potentially upending a scientific consensus that has stood since Darwin's day.

Rethinking humanity's origin story

The frontispiece of Thomas Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863) sketched by natural history artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

As reported in New Scientist, the 8- to 9-million-year-old hominin jaw bones were found at Nikiti, northern Greece, in the '90s. Scientists originally pegged the chompers as belonging to a member of Ouranopithecus, an genus of extinct Eurasian ape.

David Begun, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto, and his team recently reexamined the jaw bones. They argue that the original identification was incorrect. Based on the fossil's hominin-like canines and premolar roots, they identify that the ape belongs to a previously unknown proto-hominin.

The researchers hypothesize that these proto-hominins were the evolutionary ancestors of another European great ape Graecopithecus, which the same team tentatively identified as an early hominin in 2017. Graecopithecus lived in south-east Europe 7.2 million years ago. If the premise is correct, these hominins would have migrated to Africa 7 million years ago, after undergoing much of their evolutionary development in Europe.

Begun points out that south-east Europe was once occupied by the ancestors of animals like the giraffe and rhino, too. "It's widely agreed that this was the found fauna of most of what we see in Africa today," he told New Scientists. "If the antelopes and giraffes could get into Africa 7 million years ago, why not the apes?"

He recently outlined this idea at a conference of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

It's worth noting that Begun has made similar hypotheses before. Writing for the Journal of Human Evolution in 2002, Begun and Elmar Heizmann of the Natural history Museum of Stuttgart discussed a great ape fossil found in Germany that they argued could be the ancestor (broadly speaking) of all living great apes and humans.

"Found in Germany 20 years ago, this specimen is about 16.5 million years old, some 1.5 million years older than similar species from East Africa," Begun said in a statement then. "It suggests that the great ape and human lineage first appeared in Eurasia and not Africa."

Migrating out of Africa

In the Descent of Man, Charles Darwin proposed that hominins descended out of Africa. Considering the relatively few fossils available at the time, it is a testament to Darwin's astuteness that his hypothesis remains the leading theory.

Since Darwin's time, we have unearthed many more fossils and discovered new evidence in genetics. As such, our African-origin story has undergone many updates and revisions since 1871. Today, it has splintered into two theories: the "out of Africa" theory and the "multi-regional" theory.

The out of Africa theory suggests that the cradle of all humanity was Africa. Homo sapiens evolved exclusively and recently on that continent. At some point in prehistory, our ancestors migrated from Africa to Eurasia and replaced other subspecies of the genus Homo, such as Neanderthals. This is the dominant theory among scientists, and current evidence seems to support it best — though, say that in some circles and be prepared for a late-night debate that goes well past last call.

The multi-regional theory suggests that humans evolved in parallel across various regions. According to this model, the hominins Homo erectus left Africa to settle across Eurasia and (maybe) Australia. These disparate populations eventually evolved into modern humans thanks to a helping dollop of gene flow.

Of course, there are the broad strokes of very nuanced models, and we're leaving a lot of discussion out. There is, for example, a debate as to whether African Homo erectus fossils should be considered alongside Asian ones or should be labeled as a different subspecies, Homo ergaster.

Proponents of the out-of-Africa model aren't sure whether non-African humans descended from a single migration out of Africa or at least two major waves of migration followed by a lot of interbreeding.

Did we head east or south of Eden?

Not all anthropologists agree with Begun and his team's conclusions. As noted by New Scientist, it is possible that the Nikiti ape is not related to hominins at all. It may have evolved similar features independently, developing teeth to eat similar foods or chew in a similar manner as early hominins.

Ultimately, Nikiti ape alone doesn't offer enough evidence to upend the out of Africa model, which is supported by a more robust fossil record and DNA evidence. But additional evidence may be uncovered to lend further credence to Begun's hypothesis or lead us to yet unconsidered ideas about humanity's evolution.