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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Using Numbers To Mislead Us About Africa

"I am very impressed by the work of Morten Jerven, who has done a reconstruction of the quantification of African economies. He is finding that the numbers that institutions like the World Bank and IMF use are very bad in terms of representing African economies. He has a book coming out with Cornell University Press (Poor Numbers: How we are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to do About It, 2013). These are extraordinarily important findings. I have tried to show the same types of problems with the way that it has been easy to pick up a few numbers and infer something quite erroneous because the data have been so poor or simply nonexistent. The ignorance allows for misleading inferences. In one of my first publications, I wrote about the representation of root crops in the Berg Report. There had been no attention in the productivity figures to cassava being intercropped, and basically no focus on cassava and yam being major staples. These schematic and erroneous representations were used to support the argument that African agriculture was inefficient and needed to be subjected to the measures eventually known as structural adjustment" - Jane Guyer, http://www.asanewsonline.com/2013/01/23/profile-jane-guyer-asas-2012-distinguished-africanist/

"For a number of years now I have been trying to answer the question: How good are these numbers? The short answer is that the numbers are poor. This is just not a matter of technical accuracy – the arbitrariness of the quantification process produces observations with very large errors and levels of uncertainty. This ‘numbers game’ has taken on a dangerously misleading air of accuracy, and the resulting figures are used to make critical decisions that allocate scarce resources. International development actors are making judgments based on erroneous statistics. Governments are not able to make informed decisions because existing data are too weak or the data they need do not exist" - Morten Jerven, http://africanarguments.org/2012/11/20/poor-numbers-how-we-are-misled-by-african-development-statistics-and-what-to-do-about-it-–-by-morten-jerven/

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