Maybe the title of the post is a bit of an overstatement. It is actually very cool and rewarding to see that someone over at The Economist is thinking about the same questions as I was almost three years ago.
Essentially my hypothesis was that increased access to information would make a country more free than those with less access to information. (Disregard the obvious question about which way this relationship goes. Are countries more free because they have access to information or do they have more access to information because they are more free?) My original thinking was related to the internet, but it quickly became clear that I needed to expand that idea into communication in general. There just wasn’t enough solid data available to only focus on the internet. This was three years ago and the best data I could find at the time was another few years old. In the past five years alone, the number of internet users has doubled.
A very simplistic version of what eventually happened was that I took a combination of the percentage of the population of a country with access different types of communication (phones, radios, internet, etc.) and compared that to the Freedom House Index score of the country (a measure of how free a country is). I did this for about 180 countries. In the end there was only a slight correlation and I couldn’t event start to claim there was causation. I can still remember sitting in my professor’s office telling him I think I needed to start over. His advice was great. He essentially told me that it was beyond the scope of this project to actually come up with some big revelation and find out that two things were definitively connected. The point of the project in my case was to go through the process of doing research and learn how it worked. It would have been nice if at that time Freedom House was compiling internet freedom scores like they are today. That would have saved me some serious time and headaches.
In the end, it is really interesting to see how in my case the lack of available data ended up shifting my thesis topic away from the original question. In that vein, it was incredibly satisfying to come across this article in The Economist. With people asking if social media played a role in some of the Arab revolutions, it makes sense that serious thought is going into the question. I’d like to believe that unfettered access to information is making people more free, don’t you?
The image in question is below, here is the original article.