Friday, August 29, 2008

Evaluating the Olympics

There are many different ways to interpret the medal count to determine which country "won" the Olympics. Throughout its coverage of the Olympics, my daily (US) newspaper ranked countries by total medals won. This put the US at the top; other countries' media seem to prefer a self-favoring ranking system, too. Measuring in golds per million people or golds per billion GDP, the US fared quite poorly.

Generally impressive all-around geek Simon Tatham constructed this Hasse diagram of countries participating in the 2008 Olympics. His idea was to take generally sensible comparisons (where country A clearly outperformed country B) and form a partial ordering of countries.
So we want to say that one country has done strictly better than another if the medal score of the latter can be transformed into the former by a sequence of medal additions and medal upgrades. A bit of thought shows that this is exactly equivalent to defining a partial order on triples of medals...
I found this very satisfying not only because I love graphs and beautiful diagrams, but because it also allows for easy visual comprehension of which countries performed around the same level.

(Via *God Plays Dice*.)

This post's theme word: fungible, "interchangeable," usually used in an economic sense w.r.t. products or assets.

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