Things you thought you knew, overturned in an instant

The NHS is the third largest organisation in the world, behind the Chinese Red Army and the Indian State Railway. I’ve often heard this impressive statistic cited. In fact I’ve said it myself on more than one occasion.

As you’ve no doubt guessed from the title of the article, IT ISN’T TRUE. It may have been once but the world is a fast changing place.

Last night, while travelling from York to Oxford, I was listening to Radio 4’s More Or Less. Along with several other fascinating investigations into surprising and tendential statistical claims, the programme looked into this old chesnut about the National Health Service.

Although the NHS is indeed a very large organisaton, with over a million employees, it’s actually in fifth place in global terms. The Indian State Railway has slipped even further, to number eight.

In fourth place is MacDonalds. This is a bit contentious as the bulk of MacDonalds are franchises so it comes down to a debate about whether the uniform and standardised working practices are enough to denote a common membership.

There’s no argument, however, about WalMart, which is in third place. Membership of the armed forces of the People’s Republic Of China is also well-defined, putting it in second place.

Which makes the number one organisation, in terms of numbers, the United States Department of Defence.

Again, there’s some dispute as the figure for the Chinese army doesn’t include civilian employees while the US DoD does. Figures for the former aren’t available, but if they were, the Red Army may well still hold the top position.

How quickly is the world we know turned upside down? He who lives by the fact will die by the fact.

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