Measuring the distance between two places on a map is pretty straightforward. But if you want to calculate how long a shoreline is, things can get complicated. Just search "U.S. coastline length" and you'll find that results can vary by tens of thousands of miles.
How can cartographers come up with numbers that differ so wildly if they're all measuring the same thing? The answer, according to the video below from RealLifeLore, lies in a phenomenon called the Coastline Paradox.
Measuring the East Coast of the U.S. isn't the same as calculating the miles separating the tip of Florida from the tip of Maine. A coast doesn't follow a straight line. It's made up of divots and curves that start to multiply the closer you zoom in on the map. Accounting for every single detail of the coast is impossible. One, because the shore is always changing shape, and two, because these intricacies go all the way down to the molecular level.
That means cartographers have to pick a unit of measurement with which to estimate the length of the coast. If one team measures in miles and another measures in units of 100 miles, their results will look very different. Smaller measurements produce longer and, technically, more accurate numbers. But at some point, if you keep drilling down to smaller and smaller units, the length of a coastline appears to approach infinity—which doesn't seem entirely right, either. So every measurement of a coastline you see is really just a rough estimate.
The Coastline Paradox isn't the only complication that makes cartography an imperfect science. Even Mount Everest's title as the world's tallest mountain isn't totally uncontested.
Learn more about the Coastline Paradox in the video below.
Every year, U.S. News and World Report assembles its list of the Best States across a variety of metrics. Categories like health care, education, economy, and quality of life are measured statistically—education, for example, looks at the graduation rate in high schools, while the unemployment rate correlates with job opportunities—and assessed against areas where states may be lacking, like disparities in income between genders or unfavorable crime statistics.
After considerable crunching of numbers, the U.S. News data analysis has crowned a new "best" state: Iowa.
The Hawkeye state finished in the top 10 or top five in key areas like health care, job opportunities, and overall infrastructure. Farming, a longtime identifying trait, has taken second place to manufacturing plants. And while plenty of Iowa is rural, its technological innovations are advanced: the state actually leads the nation in building high-speed internet access into the fabric of its communities.
There are other factors that paved the way for Iowa's placement—affordable housing, for example, where it ranks second overall in the country, and health care affordability. U.S. News points to a sluggish population growth for younger residents and less-hospitable resources for entrepreneurs as drawbacks.
In the full list, Minnesota grabbed the second-place spot; New York, the 25th. Louisiana appears at the bottom.
[h/t U.S. News]