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Lost in New World

Washington, Nov. 21 (Reuters): More young Americans are familiar with the island on TV’s “Survivor” than with Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq or Israel, a National Geographic survey reported on Wednesday.

Americans’ dismal performance was not that different from from responses by young people in eight other nations, especially Canada and Britain, and was slightly better than last-ranked Mexico, the survey found.

Only 17 per cent of US young people could find Afghanistan on a world map, though it has been in the news almost constantly since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Just one in every seven young Americans could locate Iraq or Iran on a map of the Middle East and Asia.

Israel was tough for Americans to find — only 14 per cent could locate it — though the worldwide response was not much better: in no country among the nine could more than half of young adults locate it. The average was less than 25 per cent.

Worldwide, only three in 10 young people could find the Pacific Ocean, which covers 33 per cent of the Earth. Seven in 10 Americans could correctly locate it.

By contrast, 34 per cent of young Americans knew that the island used for the last season of the television show “Survivor” was in the South Pacific.

Many young Americans had an exaggerated image of America’s population, with 30 per cent estimating the US population to be one billion to two billion, or roughly one-third of the world’s population. The correct response in the survey was 150 million to 350 million.

Respondents in all other countries did better on that question, and did much better on estimating the population of their own country.

But no country’s young people did very well in naming four countries that possess nuclear weapons. Overall, 23 per cent answered correctly. In France, a sizable minority — 24 per cent — did not name their own country among the four.

National Geographic was concerned enough about the results to form a coalition — including such media and entertainment heavyweights as AOL, the American Society of Newspaper Editors, News Corp, Sea World/Busch Gardens Adventure Parks, Nickelodeon and Sesame Workshop — to try to reverse the trend.

“Those results are stunning and in many ways discouraging,” said John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society.

“We don’t think we can lay these results off as side effects of youth and their presumed unconcern about much in life in general,” Fahey said at a news conference, adding that the survey showed “the apparent retreat by young people from a global society in an era that doesn't allow such a luxury”.

The survey was conducted by RoperASW earlier this year in interviews with 3,250 young adults aged 18 to 24 in the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Great Britain and Japan.

Young adults in Sweden, Germany and Italy ranked highest, answering about 70 per cent of questions correctly, followed in descending order by France, Japan and Britain. Young Canadians, Americans and Mexicans gave the right answer on fewer than half the questions, the survey found.

But none of the countries got an excellent mark, according to Nick Boyon of RoperASW.

Boyon said young people worldwide could identify an average of about 10 countries on a world map, out of 16 they were asked to name.

He said nine out of 10 young Americans could recognize the United States on a world map,“which is reassuring, but it does make you wonder about the other 10 percent.”

The only country in Europe that most young Americans could identify was Italy, possibly because of its shape, Boyon said.

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