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October 24, 2014

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One nation, seven sins

Geographers measure propensity for evil in states, counties

Seven Deadly Sins in Nevada

Geographers from Kansas State University did a study called Launch slideshow »

Seven Deadly Sins Nationwide

Geographers from Kansas State University did a study called Launch slideshow »

Seven Deadly Sins Nationwide with "Hot Spots"

Geographers from Kansas State University did a study called Launch slideshow »

Seven Deadly Sins Comparison

Geographers from Kansas State University did a study called Launch slideshow »

The question of evil and where it lurks has been largely ignored by the scientific community, which is why a recently released study titled “The Spatial Distribution of the Seven Deadly Sins Within Nevada” is groundbreaking: Never before has a state’s fall from grace been so precisely graphed and plotted.

Geographers from Kansas State University have used certain statistical measurements to quantify Nevada’s sins and come up with a county-by-county map purporting to show various degrees of lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride in the Silver State. By culling statistics from nationwide databanks of things like sexually transmitted disease infection rates (lust) or killings per capita (wrath), the researchers came up with a sin index. This is a precision party trick — rigorous mapping of ridiculous data.

Their findings were presented Tuesday at the Association of American Geographers’ annual meeting at the Riviera, where Kansas State geography research associate Thomas Vought fielded questions while standing next to a poster of his research. Seven maps of Nevada, in seven different colors, for seven different sins.

The darker a county, the more evil it is.

Greed was calculated by comparing average incomes with the total number of inhabitants living beneath the poverty line. On this map, done in yellow, Clark County is bile (see map on Page 2).

Envy was calculated using the total number of thefts — robbery, burglary, larceny and stolen cars. Rendered in green, of course, Clark County is emerald.

Wrath was calculated by comparing the total number of violent crimes — murder, assault and rape — reported to the FBI per capita. Vought and his colleagues used the color red to illustrate wrath, so Clark County looks like a fresh welt. Washoe is slightly statistically duller. Everywhere else is a friendly pork pink.

Lust was calculated by compiling the number of sexually transmitted diseases — HIV, AIDS, syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea — reported per capita. Here again, Clark and Washoe counties are worst. Carson City County is a close third.

Gluttony was calculated by counting the number of fast food restaurants per capita, and this is one category where Clark County is bested. First in deep fry goes to Carson City.

Sloth was calculated by comparing expenditures on arts, entertainment and recreation with the rate of employment. Here again Clark County is beat, scoring only average on the scale of sloth.

And pride, lastly, is most important. The root of all sins, in this study, is the aggregate of all data. Vought and his Kansas colleagues combined all data from the six other sins and averaged it into an overview of all evil. So pride, mapped in purple, shows the states two darkest bruises: counties Clark and Carson City.

Yet, in the grand scheme of things, maybe we’re not that bad. While Vought and his colleagues spent four weeks on the detailed Nevada study, they also ran the numbers on some 3,000 counties across the country, a nationwide survey of sin.

Turns out Nevada is unremarkable when compared with other states. Sure, we have a little discoloration around Washoe and Clark counties when it comes to wrath, and Southern Nevada as a whole stands out in the nationwide map of greed, but other than that, we’re almost colorless, boring even, when compared with Texas, which ranked high for gluttony, or wrath, which was concentrated in Florida and surrounding states.

Moreover, the Kansas geographers also compared the level of sin in 10 top casino markets, and while the Las Vegas Strip ranked first for greed, it could muster no better than third place for pride, the aggregate of all sins. It was the southern gambling cities — Lula, Miss.; Biloxi, Miss.; and Shreveport, La., that came out on top of the bottom. Why, exactly, remains to be seen. The Kansas geographers started this project, it seems pretty clear, for the erudite amusement; something to stand out at a 6,000-person convention consumed with the world’s heavy questions. But if Tuesday’s convention crowd was evidence, the sin study was interesting to other scholars as well. So Vought and colleagues plan to continue their national study of evil.

“It’s too much fun,” Vought said, smiling in a way that suggested, if not pride, then a good deal of pleasure.

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