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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

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: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,100 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)



"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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dascholar on February 1, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Bravo to Morten Jervens on a fine and informative book. May the stats get better!!!!

I just finished reading this book. Since I had read other things by author, I did not discover anything that I did not already know. For those who are not aware of his work, this book will come as quite informative and for some hopefully a wake up call. My only quibble with the book is that it too nice. Probably, this is a question of personality and style. He references epistemological and methodological problems that arise from using bad data (bad plus noisy data is, in my view, a priori junk); however, he does not, borrowing from a Seinfeld episode, bother to name names as much as I think he should have. In my view, there is no justification for someone who is methodologically sophisticated using bad data to draw inferences about whether institutions/regime types impact economic development and public goods distribution. There is no basis for claiming that there is a positive and robust relationship between post-structural adjustment, democratization and an uptick in economic growth in Africa based on national income data. As Jerven shows clearly, the problems with the data is just too much to rest such an inferential oomph onto. Even with pristine data, this proposition is problematic. It is down right silly with bad data! In a nutshell, I like the book a lot and see it as having a major impact but I would have liked it to have been more forceful in its criticism of those who have used bad data and should have known better
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By philippe duchemin on December 24, 2013
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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Grieve Chelwa on March 3, 2013
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Poor Numbers is a very good and easy read devoid of technical jargon and therefore accessible to many people (I have requested the library at my university to order a copy). Your anecdotes on statistical procedures in specific countries were highly illuminating - didn't know that there was a bit of a guessing game around Nigeria's population numbers, for instance.

My hope is that the recommendations in your book will filter through so that proper data collection becomes a focal point of good governance.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By T. Russo on February 4, 2013
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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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1 of 1 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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