Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

NPR Features 'Sex, Drugs & Body Counts;' Slate Posts Rave Review

August 2, 2010

Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict was featured on Saturday by NPR's On the Media program. The on-air interview with Institute Professor Peter Andreas, a co-editor of the book, described several instances – involving the global drug trade, Bosnia death toll, and human trafficking – in which numbers used were highly political and equally suspect. Andreas's interview followed a review of the volume by Slate columnist Jack Shafer, who called it “a terrific new book [that] encourages all to be skeptical about statistics.”

Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts includes essays about the Darfur genocide, armed conflict, terrorism, and more. In each case, it raises questions about numbers and their political origins and use. 

Shafer also points to Andreas’s essay about illicit drug numbers, which suggests that the US drug enforcement bureaucracy manipulates figures about drug seizures to "fend off political attacks" on their budgets.

Readers are encouraged to question numbers in specific detail. “The best advice in the book comes in the editors' concluding essay, which calls on everybody in the numbers racket – NGOs, government, academics, journalists – to confess humbly and honestly that they ‘don't know’ rather than flinging dubious numbers,” Shafer concludes.