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Monday, March 10th, 2008 at 4:38 pm Written by:

I’ve got a lot of emails from people telling me about this new United Nations Data site. Unfortunately, the same people don’t seem to have actually looked at the site before declaring that it’s interesting and sending the top level link to me.

I’m not saying that the site isn’t interesting (it’s a repackaging of the UN Common Database whose current interface will discontinue in July), but you would think that if anyone had actually found it interesting, they’d have found some statistics in it that were interesting, and sent me a note about that.

Otherwise it’s like a friend passing you a book that they say is interesting, but you can tell they haven’t even opened. In other words, they think you might find it interesting, even though it is not even slightly interesting to them.

Anyway, the undata website itself is much better done than it used to be. The way to get into it (ie surf around on it without getting bored within the first five seconds) is to search for the page on your own country (in my case they united kingdom), and then apply one of the filters on the left.

I chose “Energy”, and then looked at the decline in the UK of all its fossil fuel production since 1996.

Oddly, our production of keyboards has gone up about 2-fold in 10 years, and there’s a very low point in in 1997. Also, you can see which countries are manufacturing revolvers and pistols.

While this is all very interesting, it is, sadly, not easy to go any deeper. What I’d really like are links from each of the statistical references to their precise source. Stats are aggregations, and you really want to be able to drill down into them as far as possible. This requires you to know where they came from.

The industrial commodity production statistics appear to come from a questionnaire sent in by each government. The rest of the statistics come from a list of 15 other sources.

Many of the monetary statistics are quoted in US Dollars, which isn’t so good, given the recent fluctuation in that currency. Maybe there should be an option to normalize the figures into another currency of choice. Would it depend on whether the accounts that are summed were in the first part of the year or the last if there has been a drastic shift in its value?

Aggregate stats are a real problem, and there’s no excuse for it when there’s easily enough room on the database to have it at a much lower level of granularity, for example by month.

The gold standard for this type of data is the US Treasury and their debt to the nearest penny and who holds it webpage.

Got bored yet? Thought so.

Look, I am trying very hard to find things which I both care about and which are also interesting to other people. Most of the time it’s a struggle to find any overlap at all. For example, I don’t care whatsoever about Madeline McCann or Lady Diana, both of whom, if newspaper covers are anything to go by, people find endlessly fascinating.

I do care about the coming space wars — something that has major, lasting consequences to everyone on the planet, yet surprisingly few people seem interested in.

Being sent links to unexplored databases doesn’t seem to help with this quest.

I can see everyone queuing at the movie theatres getting all excited about the next Science Fiction blockbuster at the movies, while their government irresponsibly conducts weapons experiments in orbit and cause Kessler Syndrome to manifest, rendering the use of satellites too prone to loss to be feasible for many generations. Maybe we’ve just gotten bored with our GPS and accurate weather predictions to find it interesting anymore.


  • 1. &r&hellip replies at 10th March 2008, 4:57 pm :

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  • 2. Movies and Film Blog &raq&hellip replies at 10th March 2008, 6:53 pm :

    […] March 10, 2008 on 11:38 am | In Uncategorized | Freesteel created an interesting post today on data.un.orgHere’s a short outli […]

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