|Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts
||[Jul. 30th, 2010|11:59 am]
Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict is my most recent read. It wasn't as exciting as the title indicates :-) Basically, it's a collection of political science essays. My synopsis below:
Statistics are important, but very hard to measure when they involved armed conflict, drugs, or trafficking. Agencies push numbers that make them look good to try to ask for/justify higher funding. Even if the number is totally made up, it acts as an "anchor" for people trying to make their own estimates.
A good example is casualties of the war in Bosnia. In 1992, the president, foreign minister, and commander of the army met to decide what number to use, and agreed on 150K civilians killed by Serb nationalists. Then the foreign minister announced that 250K civilians had been killed, which became the number that "everyone" used for a while. Years later, the Sarajevo-based Research and Documentation Center worked on a project that led to publishing The Book of the Dead in 2007, which counted everyone killed and came up with a number of 97K. This made some people very angry and they denounced the project and people who had worked on it.
One school of thought is that it's OK to exaggerate numbers in order to draw attention to a problem. This school of thought makes me mad :-)
Anyway, what I took away from the book is basically never trust numbers for things that are really hard to count, like most things involving illegal activity.