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Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It (Cornell Studies in Political Economy) Paperback – February 19, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-0801478604 ISBN-10: 080147860X Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Series: Cornell Studies in Political Economy
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press; 1 edition (February 19, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080147860X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801478604
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #177,316 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Increasingly, scientists turn to the large statistical databases of international bodies when testing favoured hypotheses to control for growth and economic development. They might hesitate after reading Poor Numbers. . . . This book offers fascinating, disturbing insights for anyone interested in the role of numbers in the social sciences. For those using global economic databases, it should be required reading."—Nature (11 July 2013)



"This important book attempts to systematize what most quantitative practitioners in Africa generally understand: African macroeconomic data are poor. . . . Using a variety of sources that include current surveys of in-country statistical collection agencies and firsthand historical accounts, Jerven outlines several root causes of the data problem, which include Africa's colonial heritage and the more recent, structural adjustment policies. He continues his analysis by exploring how data are consciously shaped by both local and international politics and international aid agencies. Specifically, Jerven is critical of World Bank transparency and its unwillingness to provide him with quantitative methodologies of its official data compilation. . . . This volume opens up a venue for a research paradigm that could lead to much-needed improvements in the collection of African data. Summing Up: Highly recommended."—Choice (August 2013)



"Poor Numbers is a powerful little book…, highlighting the risks of making political inferences solely based on statistical analysis… Although an economist by training, Jerven's clear prose without jargon helps make Poor Numbers reach a wider readership. It is imperative to note that his is not a simple criticism of quantitative methodology, but of the confidence one has in the findings of quantitative analysis without due attention to the quality of the data. In this sense, even those who have no scholarly interest in African development economics would find the findings and conclusions pertinent to the foundational debates on the role of methodology and theory in political science."—Jan Erk, European Political Science (November 2014)



"I found Poor Numbers illuminating and disturbing at the same time—I think that is exactly what Morten Jerven intended. It is well written, even elegant in some places. Jerven's recommendation that more funding be put into statistical services to do baseline surveys and field-based data collection makes a lot of sense."—Carol Lancaster, Dean of the School of Foreign Service and Professor of Politics, Georgetown University, author of Aid to Africa: So Little Done, So Much to Do



"In Poor Numbers, Morten Jerven takes on the issue of inaccurate macroeconomic data in Sub-Saharan Africa. First, by describing collection methods, he shows quite convincingly that the data are pretty dreadful, and perhaps more damning, that they may include systematic and predictable flaws linked to the way in which they are collected and aggregated. Jerven demonstrates that basic national accounts data are too poor to assess very basic characteristics of African economic performance since independence. This short elegant book is fascinating and strikes me as a must-read for any social scientist interested in African political economy and policy."—Nicolas van de Walle, Cornell University, author of African Economies and the Politics of Permanent Crisis, 1979–1999

About the Author

Morten Jerven is Assistant Professor in the School for International Studies at Simon Fraser University.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By ncooty on April 20, 2014
Format: Paperback
If you work in or are interested in international development--in Africa or elsewhere--read this book.

By (i) assessing the techniques and influences related to the generation of economic data for Africa and (ii) placing that information in a cultural and historical context, Jerven has provided an exceptionally useful and cautionary view of the tragically poor state of economic data from most of the African continent. Most readers will likely be astonished at the arbitrariness of economic indicators from these countries and the extent to which enormous levels of measurement error are ignored by public institutions, academics, and other users. The book predominantly comprises reviews of economic history (mostly from 1950s to present) and insights from his interviews and surveys involving international financial institutions (e.g., World Bank and IMF) and officials/ civil servants from statistical agencies and central banks in 20-something African countries over about 4.5 years.

He advocates (i) strengthened and consistent support (funding, facilities, staff, technical assistance, etc.) to autonomous or semi-autonomous national statistical agencies--both for collection and reporting, (ii) more locally appropriate measures of economic indicators, with a greater focus on data quality (e.g. regular, accurate surveys) than comprehensiveness (e.g.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By David Last on January 6, 2014
Format: Paperback
Morten Jerven is an economic historian from the LSE, with a good track record of publication and some World Bank and UNDP consultancies to his name. This book got the nod from Bill Gates and several good reviews. It makes a strong and succinct case for NOT relying on African GDP statistics as indicators of growth. The data from most sub-saharan countries are unreliable and misleading. One reason is that the aims of those who produce the figures and those who use them are in conflict. Jerven points out that scholars in the 1960s-1980s relied on national accounts, but by the 1990-2000s, Penn World Tables and World Bank data dominated footnotes; their ‘brand’ was better, although the ingredients were the same tainted data. Development studies, Jerven says, are now dominated by economists who prefer econometric analysis using global datasets in cross-country regressions; they are more interested in economics than economies, so they don’t notice the poor source data for the big data sets. The heart of Jerven’s argument rests (Ch 3) on case studies in which he dissects contradictory data on basic variables: population, agricultural production, and change in national income. The process of counting population in Nigeria is fraught with practical and ideological problems. Agricultural production figures have not adequately accounted for subsistence production--a major component (see sources on the informal economy, which dwarfs the formal economy). GDP and rates of change show huge variation from different sources. The reason for these basic data problems can be found in the bureaucracies of national capitals - civil servants without the tools to do what is expected, lack of investment in basic surveys and data collection, and poor institutions.Read more ›
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By T. Russo on February 4, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've done a masters in Economic History and International Development and I found Jerven's book Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It (Cornell Studies in Political Economy) to be a well-written overview of a pressing issue that no one has ever talked about before. The subject matter is weighty and data-centric. But the author's clear and compelling writing style, as well as entertaining anecdotes from his research trips throughout sub Saharan Africa, make this a first-rate read both for experts and novices curious about international development, aid and global inequality. Jerven does an excellent job of answering the subtitle's question: "How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do about It." Hope he writes more soon. Kudos!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By philippe duchemin on December 24, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
after 40 years working on developpement planning in african countries I find a book dealing with poor or even false basic statistics.
National population census have disappeared. Birth ratios, disease ratios , population structures are extrapolated from neighbouring countries and vice versa. Income end expenses family budgets are extrapolated from extremely small samples.
the reality is that 40 years ago a socio-economist expert stayed from 2 to 3 years on the spot either in the bush or in shelter towns to get technical or socio-economical datas for a single project. 20 years later the World Bank standards were a week.
Now people are allocated in the best case 3 days for focus group meetings with so called representative sample.

Is is very necessary that other books on same topic be published on an hidden scandal
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