What Does “CSI” Have to Do With Geography?

Some of you have wondered why National Geographic asked a question about the television show CSI on the Roper survey. This question reads “Which of these cities is the setting for the original television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation?” The four possible answers are San Francisco, Las Vegas, Chicago, and Los Angeles. (The correct answer is Las Vegas.)

On this blog, and in e-mails, several folks have commented that the question is not really a very good indication of geographic know-how and amounts to television trivia.

The pop culture question was included on the survey as a contrast to substantive, real-world questions.  The issue is not actually what percentage of young Americans know where CSI is set, but how many correctly answered that question compared to questions that we would assert really matter—questions about cultures, peoples, landmarks, security, economics, etc.

With this as our basis of inquiry, we can now say that more young Americans (39 percent) know that the fictional CSI is set in Las Vegas than can correctly select Chinese from a list of four options as the world’s most spoken primary language (18 percent).  Three times as many knew where CSI is set than could find Afghanistan on a map of Asia (12 percent). A map of Asia! These results speak to the power of pop culture.

Asking a pop culture question is not unprecedented. In the 2002 National Geographic-Roper survey, we asked about that season’s location of the show Survivor.  That year, more people knew the correct answer was the South Pacific (34 percent) than could correctly estimate the U.S. population (25 percent).

We recognize that these are not top-level benchmarks of geographic knowledge, but pop culture references make good examples of how young Americans can sometimes pay more attention to where their favorite television characters are sleuthing than where their troops are fighting.

Any single question on the survey can, of course, appear trivial. But, taken together, the results paint a disturbing portrait of geographic illiteracy on a range of knowledge and skills in an increasingly interconnected world.

—Chris Shearer
National Geographic Education Foundation

16 thoughts on “What Does “CSI” Have to Do With Geography?

  1. Wow! I find it disturbing to think people are upset with the inclusion of the question. As a few have stated, I knew, when I read the question why it had been included here.

  2. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why that question is on the survey before even reading Chris Shearer’s perfectly logical explanation. I know I assumed that it was there to contrast how much we know about pop culture to how much we know about geography. Makes sense to me–and fits perfectly with the point of the site.

  3. All the folks who “don’t understand” the inclusion of the CSI question must not have read Chris Shearer’s explanation.
    All the folks who understand but or “disagree with” the inclusion of the question must not know much about social science research methods.
    Before I read his explanation, I was annoyed myself, especially because it was the only question I missed!

  4. If National Geographic wants to test pop culture knowledge, then why not lable the survey “Pop Culture Survey” instead of leading people to believe they were being quized on geography?
    Now this survey is simply an innocuous quiz taken for fun. National Geographic has every right to put whatever they like into such a quiz. They could ask any question they like. But the issue becomes much wider. National Geographic is putting its education system into our schools. Now the issue becomes somewhat more than innocuous.
    As I was growing up, my parents subscribed to the National Geographic Magazine and I looked forward to each issue. As the name of the magazine implied, I could study geography by reading the magazine. Expecting this would continue, I subscribed to the magazine myself. This is becoming less and less the case. Now days National Geographic Magazine is posting articles about the brain and DNA. As an aside, the magazine quite apparently knows nothing about the brain as it seems to think there is no difference between the brain and the mind. Not too intelligent – brains don’t do any thinking; they are simply pieces of meat, nerve center of the body. But the mind on the other hand … But I digress.
    National Geogaphic Magazine would do well to look up in the dictionary the definition of its namesake. The magazine did very well when it stuck to geography. But CSI has no more to do with geography than the brain, the mind or DNA. Putting nonsense into the minds (not brains) of our school children is a social issue of national concern. Our school children should not be tested on where CSI is set, and certainly not under the pretense of geography.
    If National Geographic wants to test school children on geography, fine. If it wants to contrast to substantive, real-world questions, then lable the quiz as a study in psychology rather than geography so that teachers, students and parents know what is going on. But be mindful that our school children are not guinea pigs or mice for social groups to do studies on. They are our children placed in schools for the specific purpose of learning for themselves, not to have their knowledge contrasted with knowledge of real-world knowledge so that some psychologist can have some data for his own studies.
    The namesake of National Geographic Mazazine leads one to believe it is concerned with geography, not psychology issues. On picking up the magazine or observing its programs in our schools, one would rightfully expect it to be involved with geographic issues and not psychology issues or questions.
    It is the digression of the magazine from its namesake that I have elected to not renew my subscription.

  5. its vry nice site to improve the knowledge.i also wanna improve ma knowledge.so i study it daily.

  6. I thought the question was a good indicator of how much trouble Americans are in. I am an Ace in geography but got the pop-culture question wrong. Now for those to dumb not to see the point of the CSI question right away… well your loss, it couldn’t be any easier to think about. The geographic percentages scare me and make me ashamed to have anything to do with the people that know nothing of geography. This problem must be adressed, especially since America continues to fall behind in the world community.

  7. Including the CSI question was a stroke of genious — it proved, once-and-for-all, that our youth watch more TV than they read, and that what they read does not include near enough ‘people sciences’, ie: Geography, history, art, etc. Let’s start feeding our kids the kind of information they will need in the coming years — and I don’t mean CSI, though I totally enjoy the show myself! I realized I only knew that Asia was the ‘home’ of several named places but as to which area of Asia … who knows? Not me! Oh my, I am as ignorant as the average teen!

  8. I can understand the inclusion of the question on which city CSI was originally set in, though I disagree with its inclusion, however, I must question the wording of question 19 (I believe) Sri Lanka is an island and not located ON any continent – the question should have been “is considered part of which continent”.

  9. We don’t watch TV at our house, so questions about Survivor or CSI mean nothing to my nine year old daughter. However if you wanted to ask where Paris is because Linnea visited there in “Linnea in Monet’s Garden”, or where the two dolls came from in “Miss Happiness and Miss Flower” (Japan) or what state “The Worry Week” is set in (the Maine coast) she could answer all those questions.
    One of my biggest problems with TV is that it eats up valuable time, time that could be spent reading, or walking in your own neighborhood, or playing games, or learning a new skill, or just being in a tree.

  10. I was surprized how poorly that some of the younger people did. I do not think that schools teach enough geography in all grade levels from K thru Bs or Ba.

  11. Richard didn’t get the point of the inclusion even though Chris Shearer’s explanation was extremely clear. I hope that others do not share in Richard’s naïveté.

  12. The city where a television drama takes place is pretty pathetic. Not only is it not a legitimate geography question, it symbolizes one of the key problems contributing to the poor level of geography knowledge among American young people (and their parents).
    While I think that NG has made wonderful contributions to opening the peoples’ eyes to the world of geography, suggesting that a TV drama location is legitimate geography ranks right up there with labeling ketchup at a legitimate vegetable serving. Please don’t be a part of the problem.

  13. I enjoy taking the quizzes on this site but I am bothered by the HSBC pop up ad that keeps blocking the actual question.. Its rather annoying to answer their silly questions about old age and dog shows.Thats bad advertising.

  14. I asked myself the question regarding CSI’s relevance to geoknowledge and am glad you clarified.
    As a writer, researcher , and marketing professional, I would like to be privy to as much survey data as possible.
    Augusto Durand

  15. I was taken back by the question as well. The reasoning behind its inclusion is intersting. But you may want to think about something else as well. Including a question like the CSI one may serve to validate the importance of such trivial information to the people you are testing. Just something else to think about.

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