April 26, 2010
The inaccuracy and manipulation of big, attention-grabbing statistics in policy debates and media reporting is exposed and analyzed in Sex, Drugs, And Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict (Cornell University Press, June 2010), co-edited by Institute Associate Professor Peter Andreas and Tufts University Assistant Professor Kelly M. Greenhill.
The book’s editors produce many examples, from the often cited number of war dead in Bosnia (up to 250,000) to the percent of global GDP attributed to money laundering (as much as 10 percent). Most such numbers are highly suspect, they say, adding that “their continued use and abuse reflect a much larger and troubling pattern: policymakers and the media naively or deliberately accept highly politicized and questionable statistical claims about activities that are extremely difficult to measure. As a result, we too often become trapped by these mythical numbers, with perverse and counterproductive consequences.”
The book brings together anthropologists, political scientists, sociologists, and policy analysts – among them, Institute Senior Fellow Sue Eckert, Institute Adjunct Professor Thomas Biersteker, Brown Professor Kay Warren, and former Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Winifred Tate. Contributors examine the origins of such statistics and trace their proliferation. They also assess the standard metrics used to evaluate policy effectiveness in combating problems such as terrorist financing, sex trafficking, and the drug trade.