Matt Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox, known around the world for having the “smartest thinkers” asking the “toughest questions.”
Yglesias posted a map from Reddit and then added four sentences of his own. These sentences were wrong.
Here’s the map designed by redditor phillybdizzle. He says it shows which surname was most popular by county in an 1881 census of England and Wales:
Yglesias writes that “Phillybdizzle at Reddit made this map based on the 1881 Census of England and Wales showing the most common surname in each province.”
Which would be a great example of the smartest thinkers doing the toughest commentary and all that … if only England or Wales had provinces.
But you know what? Some wonks transcend geography. My colleague David Harsanyi wrote “He reminds me of the anchor in Die Hard who confidently interrupts to tell everyone Helsinki is in Sweden,” which is a pretty good comparison. Sound clip of that here:
Yglesias also tough-splains:
Any American will be familiar with the two most popular choices — Smith and Jones — but what’s remarkable is how nearly perfectly the Smith/Jones divide lines up with the political boundary between England and Wales. In the United States, both Smith and Jones play as super-generic Anglo names. But in reality they seem to show pretty distinctively what part of the British Isles your male line hails from.
Yes, this is the sum total of the article and I’m sure we’re all blown away by the staggering wisdom on display in the four total sentences.
I do want to point out that this — “But in reality they seem to show pretty distinctively what part of the British Isles your male line hails from” — is somewhere between meaningless and wrong. The map simply shows what the most common name in a given county is. Without knowing population figures for each county, it’s entirely possible that there are more Smiths or Jones in a county where the name isn’t the most popular than in a county where it is. It’s also possible that emigration patterns in the decades preceding this census might have affected which surname came out on top in 1881.
For that matter, I should note that while I’m sure phillybdizzle is an awesome guy whose work is beyond reproach, I didn’t go over 1881 Census data to check that work. I’m not sure I’d repost that work and draw conclusions from it without having checked it out, but I’m not one of the smartest thinkers asking the toughest questions.