Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lies, White Lies and Statistics

This post is a carryover from my professional life. For whatever reason, I needed to know how many university students there are in various countries. Not that much to ask, you'd think, especially in our Google era. Indeed, finding lots of fine data for the US was easy. The rest of the world: not so easy. Would you believe, for example, that no-one in Canada knows to say how many students there are in Canada? Yep. Germany isn't much better - though India isn't bad (12.8 million students in 2005. I don't know about 2006,7,8 or 2009).

As I wandered around, increasingly frustrated, someone told me about this fellow, Clifford Adelman, who recently wrote a 59-page report about my travails. Adelman, it seems, knows all about statistics, and he spent a bit of time peering at the fog of numbers thrown up by various statistical units on five continents, and came back to tell his tale.

But Let Us Straighten Out the Core Propaganda Before We Begin
An all-too-common rhetorical convention of reports and declarations
on the status of U.S. higher education is to open with a
statement that compares our participation and degree completion
rates to those of other economically advanced countries—
and always to our disfavor. It’s a way to stir up the competitive
juices: we have to be number one—or close to it—or, it is said,
our future economic life is at risk. One can cite these reports and
statements by the dozens—no, make it hundreds.
Will it surprise anyone in the house that other countries with
advanced economies utter similar statements and claim that
the United States is ahead of them in higher education? (p.14)

Those of you who are interested only in antisemitism and related cheerful matters, need not go read Adelman's report. Those seeking some light humor for their holiday readings could do worse than to have a peek.


Anonymous said...

I'm probably misunderstading something, but Stat Can doesn't have what you want?

Anonymous said...

for some weeks I have been reading closely a US-economy-blog including all the comments. What a revelation!

German experts tell us "normals" permanently that everything, absolutely everything, is better elsewhere, especially in the US, except of course when its about actions of US-military and/or -diplomacy.
... and that we are stupid and incapable of whatever you want to name. Much to my amazement I found that there is lots and lots of stuff small and big where we get a lot better deal than the US-residents, for example everyday banking fees and the like.

After thinking long and hard about it I think the pundits goal in telling us this stuff is not making the competitive juices flow, it is making it clear to us lowly ones that we are know-nothings as compared to their world-wise-ness. The sad part is that even obviously highly knowledgeable and competent people participate in this stupid game.

As to the numbers of students at German universities I would try a look at BAFÖG-recipients (BAFÖG =BundesAusbildungsFörderungsGesetz). After one has that number there is a likelihood that a figure as to the percentage receiving BAFÖG is available


Opposite Editorial said...

If you´re still in need of the stats for Germany, take a look at the Federal Statistical Office´s site where you can also search with English search terms.

It says that there have been 2.025 million students in Germany this year.

AKUS said...

This issue reflects what I believe is also a major problem in the climate change debate.

Simply, the US actually gathers and reports data, whereas other countries do no gather it in many cases, and therefore cannot report reliably, or, even id they have the data, it is partial or even deliberately misreported.

A moments thought is enough to make one realise that the billions of people in Asia, particularly India, China, and Indonesia, must be emitting directly or indirectly huge amounts of pollution, and, in fact, from time to time we get reports of totally unbreathable air in those areas due to events such as massive peat fires, or the huge numbers of coal burning stations that come on line.

But since the data is unavailable or unreliable, those reporting on pollution can only write about areas for which there is data - primarily the US, closely followed by a few EU countries.

Yet the millions of new cars, the factories, even the billions of little wood-burning cooking stoves, must clearly be emitting huge amounts of pollution - it is just never reported, and therefore we get the skewed results we see about the US.

The same happens, of course, more deliberately, with respect to the data about the number of Palestinians killed in Cast Lead, where the early reports showing much power estimates collected by Italian journalist Cremonesi which were clearly the most authoritative since they came from doctors who actually treated the dead and wounded,are simply brushed aside.

As Honest Reporting commented:

As the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead approaches, Israel and the Palestinians continue fighting over the very facts of the war. Most news outlets report that more than 1,000 civilians died in the war, but Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi was the first to indicate that the casualty count was far smaller than what Palestinian sources present. Later in the year, Simona Weinglass dug deeper, finding that Israelis and Palestinians even differ on the definition of a civilian casualty.

Yaacov said...

Whoa there folks! This was supposed to be a mildly amused glance at a topic not normally dealt with here. I don't generally do much statistical research; I set out to look and found it harder than I'd expected; I found a real expert who pokes fun at the way statistics aren't comparable to each other; and I recommended the read if you're interested. I didn't expect anyone would comment at all :~).

Anyway, thanks for the research assistance, and in future I'll try to stick to heavy stuff such as war, morality and human rights....

Anonymous said...

If you want some humour, he's a least a small amount of hope