March 15, 2010

Drunken Maps or Why the Netherlands is the World's Designated Driver

Given the results of our map of Alcohol, Caffeine and Tobacco (particularly Rachel Maddow's pithy "we're a nation of drunks!" comment) we thought it prudent to take a more ahem, sober look at the issue. So today's map is a comparison between the number of user generated placemarks referencing the terms "drunk" and "sober".

Of course the term for drunk varies with language and complicated by the fact that many terms are slangish, "Ich bin blau" (literally I am blue) in German. We don't really understand why blue=drunk either. Then again, why does blue=sad in English? In any case a closer look is clearly warranted.

The global maps seem at first glance to indicate that people are much more interested in documenting drunkenness than sobriety. Must be a lot of college students out there. But there are a number of intriguing patterns. Most interesting is that the European continent contains many more references to sober than drunk when compared to the U.S. which seems awash in a green sea of drunkenness. This is particularly interesting given that alcohol consumption is much more strictly regulated in the U.S. via high drinking ages and various blue laws (again with the blue references) restricting its sale.

World Map of Drunk and Sober

Zooming into the European level, one can see a fair amount of regional variation. The United Kingdom in particular contrasts fairly strongly with the rest of Western Europe. Western Europe itself has a fairly variegated pattern with certain areas such as the Netherlands and Belgium being particularly sober places. On the other hand, the U.K. is blanketed in references to drunk with nary a mention of sober. Given the make-up of the Anglo-American research team of Floatingsheep, this does not come as much of a surprise. But perhaps some further ethnographic participant observation in a range of pubs is warranted. Equally interesting is the steady increase in references to "drunk" (versus sober) as one moves eastward across Europe.

European Map of Drunk and Sober
But it is at the U.S. level that things are particularly compelling. As noted earlier, there are many more references to drunk than sober with a few intriguing exceptions. Most notable is a band of sobriety in Central Iowa (which incidentally seems to correspond to a lower number of bars). While Iowan farmers have always struck us as a particularly sober bunch, some of the other clusters such Southern California, Virginia Beach and Tampa-St Petersburg are a bit more surprising.

North American Map of Drunk and Sober
Given this variation we thought it worthwhile to compare the number of "sober" user generated placemarks to an independent measure of drunk related behavior. A quick search provided us with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data on traffic fatalities related to drunk driving. Aggregating our point data up to the state level and normalizing each variable by population shows a statistically significant and negative relationship. See the graph below.

Sober References vs. Drunk Driving Fatalities, State Level

In short, the number of user generated placemarks referencing the word "sober" is negatively related to the number of traffic fatalities resulting from drunk drivers. Although there isn't a direct causal relationship between the two (after all, how would the creation of a placemark affect individual decisions about driving?), the existence of a correlation at all is a compelling example of how online and offline human activity can mirror each other.

For those who are interested, there is no correlation between our measure of bars per capita and drunk driving related fatalities. Nor does the number of bars seem to correlate to references to drunk or sober.

And because we know a lot of folk from Wisconsin (ground zero for bars in the U.S.) are likely to read this, Wisconsin ranks right in the middle of states in terms of references to sober or drunk within user generated placemarks as well as drunk driven related fatalities.

So, Rachel, we're not able to reject your characterization of the U.S. as a nation of drunks (at least with this data) but an international comparison to the U.K. does suggest we're a bit more sober than some others. It also suggests that the Netherlands might be the best candidate for the world's designated if we can just get the keys out of the hands of the usual suspects.


  1. I guess you can say that we've found religion! Hallelujah! And returning to our earlier analysis of the cyberscapes of religion

    Australian Detox

  2. wow, the rest of europe makes england/ireland look really drunk. But, I wouldnt expect it to be any other way.

  3. Regarding Southern California being "more sober", the area has long been a bastion of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step groups. Sobriety and recovery from the diseases of alcoholism and drug addiction are major industries in this part of the country.

  4. This is a really interesting find. I had no idea the state I live in had so many drunks, I thought Oklahoma was just meth all the way.

  5. ireland is green as fuck

  6. I think there are some linguistic problems here. Words often have several meanings in languages. For example, the Dutch word for sober is 'nuchter'. But this is also used a lot to define someones characteristics (meaning something like no-nonsense, pragmatic). Incidentally, this is a characteristic which is highly valued by the Dutch (and they like to say they have it).

    On the other hand there are many ways of saying you're drunk in Dutch, some probably being as used as much as the word 'drunk' (or 'dronken'). 'Bezopen' and 'naar de klote' come to mind (although there are many others).

    I think this might affects the map shown of Europe.

  7. Whatever the map tells about countries with high rate of "sober" the important thing is to educate drivers about the importance of safety on the road. Let them know the rules or punishment of road accidents for them to be aware and avoid it. We can also ask help from DUI lawyers about this issue.

    Joseph @ dui lawyer

    Sydney Drink & Drug Driving lawyers
    Beazley Singleton Lawyers
    14/370 Pitt St
    Sydney NSW 2000
    (02)9283 8622


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