Nimai Mehta is the Hurst Senior Professorial Lecturer at the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, American University, Washington, DC.
A Background Note:
Data are not Facts – a distinction that Florence Nightingale highlighted as far back as 1872 when disputing the statistical reports being produced by officials of the East India Company, and consumed by the British Parliament, on the state of the Bengal peasantry. Statisticians, and economists, have unfortunately, more often than not, ignored the Nightingale distinction. Thus, as recently as the 1980s Paul Samuelson fed on Soviet data would continue to be impressed by rates of growth achieved by the Soviet Union. Did US intelligence - along with Saddam’s own intelligence - over-estimate the likelihood of WMDs leading up to the Iraq War? Do we continue to be impressed by the Russian war machine?
So how does one get to the truth? Nightingale relied on a young Bengali lawyer to send her the “facts” on the true state of the Bengali tenant farmers. If only Paul Samuelson had taken the trouble to read the travel diaries of a young Chicago economist who had managed to observe the facts on the ground as early as the 1950s. Or my own recent travels to Myanmar allowed me to re-assess the quality of data within the education system.
We don’t of course always have the time to take off and observe reality on the ground. Statisticians therefore have to work their magic with data. In these lectures I plan to remind you of some very basic precepts that the statistical approach requires in its pursuit of truth. I will use a mix of data and real-world puzzles in the lecture to highlight the promise, and pitfalls, of using data for policy and more.
The event is free, but you must register to attend.