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Westminster's map

[Update: I finally got round to adding legends to the maps]

Which countries get talked about in parliament? With data from They Work For You, I've put together these maps of where MPs like to talk about. Here's the number of mentions a country has had in parliament recently, adjusted for population:

<- Few mentions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Many mentions->

Looking at this, I'm actually surprised at how globally-minded Parliament is. Sudan (pop. 34.2 million) gets 2,302 mentions; Germany (pop. 82.5 million) has only 3,695 mentions in parliament.

Far from being ignored, Africa actually gets mentioned well beyond its economic importance to the UK. South America, on the other hand, is basically ignored.

Then there's the size bias: small countries get more mentions than big ones, once you adjust for population. Look at Mongolia: Westminster, it seems, finds Mongolians immensely more important than Chinese. The bias can partly be discounted as a problem with measurement: parliament is prone to lists of foreign relations and trade issues, for instance, which mention every country regardless of how small it is. Also, it's possible MPs talk about areas within China or India, which I wouldn't have picked up on.

But there's more to it: larger countries really do get short-changed in the attention we give them. China has a population perhaps 150 times larger than than of Bolivia - but we don't hear anything like 150 times as much news from China. We're all biased by imagining a world made up of nations, and giving the same weight to nations of all sizes. Small islands got discussed an incredible amount - particularly places in the news, like Tuvalu and the Pitcairns, but others as well.

Here's another map, adjusted for landmass rather than population. There are less surprises here: heavily-populated parts of the world get talked about more. It just demonstrates what we knew already: size doesn't matter, it's how many people you cram into it.

<- Few mentions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Many mentions->

Finally, for the sake of completeness, here's a map of the raw data. No adjustments, just what's hot in parliament:

<- Few mentions _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Many mentions->

The details

The figures for how many times a country is mentioned come from scraping They Work for You. I tried using their API, but it wouldn't let me count mentions without slurping down the text of every statement containing the search term. I counted mentions of the country name, and common variants (e.g. United States and USA). Long-winded names were shortened down to the shortest couple of words that would uniquely identify the place: 'St. Pierre and Miquelon' becomes 'St. Pierre' (or 'Saint Pierre'). I believe the data indexed goes back to 2001, but I'm not entirely sure about the details.

Colors on the maps go from blue (few mentions) to yellow (many mentions). Countries shown in white on the map are where the different tables I was using for country names, population, and land-area didn't match up; they could be easily fixed with a little tweaking, but I'm too lazy for now. There are also a few problems with ambiguous names: one reason Georgia seems so much mentioned is that it shares a name with a US state.

The world map, population and area figures are from UN data for 2002. I put it together with the python interface to mapscript: for some reason, none of the Web 2.0 mapping sites seem to make it easy to make density maps.

Here are all the numbers in one file.