Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Useful Data or Self-Serving Junk?

I have never tried to hide my suspicion of the World Economic Forum.  Indeed, I have been so bold as to suggest that they are bogged down in a worldview that is “reckless, if not downright delusional.”  Thus, I really did not know what to make of their latest exercise in rank ordering countries in terms of competitiveness in the digital economy, whose results were reported last night on the BBC News Web site.  Certainly, the top ten “winners” in this “contest” did not particularly surprise me:
  1. Sweden
  2. Singapore
  3. Finland
  4. Switzerland
  5. United States
  6. Taiwan
  7. Denmark
  8. Canada
  9. Norway
  10. South Korea
No, it was the part of the BBC report that discussed how the ordering was determined that got to me:

The report, which covers 138 economies, looks at three areas.

They are the general business, regulatory and infrastructure environment for ICT [information and communications technologies]; the readiness of the three key stakeholder sectors - individuals, businesses and governments - to use and benefit from ICT; and the actual usage of available ICT.

To be both frank and blunt, do those criteria really mean anything;  and, if so, just what do they mean to whom?  Presumably the “infrastructure environment” would come down to how much bandwidth is available to how much of the population;  but how do you evaluate the “regulatory environment?”  Is it evaluated in terms of favoring economic growth, even when such favor may conflict with quality of life for some (many?) sectors of the population?  Does it address conscientious vigilance in protecting all three “stakeholder sectors” from the many forms of pathological behavior that are enabled by network technology?  In the face of current debates over net neutrality, does it evaluate “readiness” in terms of affordability or just some vague assessment of “public attitude?”

In other words have we any good reason to believe that these results are based on anything other than junk data?

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