by Mahmud Tim Kargbo
Mark Twain, the 100th anniversary of whose death transpired months back, was never known to be soft-spoken about his opinions. He popularised the phrase, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” caustically opining the view that numbers can be used to disassemble the truth. While the Millennium Challenge Corporation Index classic snarkiness fanfare of progress on some democratic indicators failed to allow our government to partake in the Summit for Democracy – United States Department of State (https://www.state.gov/participant-list-the-summit-for-democracy/) may elicit frustrated delight from rationally minded people everywhere in the globe; their story is only half-formed. As statistics can be a tool for ill-intentioned academics to perpetuate falsehoods. That’s why a society well educated in statistics is the best defence against this kind of intellectual trickery. Today we’ll look at a recent case in which statistics were not used honestly, and how to guard against them in the future.
Past, current poverty, political, social, and economic inequalities between groups in Sierra Leone predispose to conflict; and the lack of genuine policies by the current regime to effectively tackle them is increasing the risk to our democracy. These are definitive causes that are threatening democracy in Sierra Leone. These fact has been replicated by studies over and over, and, thanks to thorough research done by scores of reputable organisations (http://www.oecd.org/dac/states-of-fragility-2018-9789264302075-en.htm), the alarming rate of youth unemployment, high rate of hunger, the politicisation of independent institutions, promotion of witch-hunting tactics under the guise of fighting corruption, favouritism, regional rhetorics, actions meant to widen the division gap and poor leadership to address these challenges are all serious threats to our democracy. Duesberg was once a bright young researcher at UC-Berkeley (I would jibe the Golden Bear, but what follows is too grave). Duesberg published non-peer-reviewed articles throughout the 1980s and ’90s expressing concerns that it will be dishonest to determine the democratic efficiency of a nation without taking into consideration the above-mentioned factors.
If we continue with the current model, the already costly corruption, massive poverty in the lives of the suffering majority and their national implications will increase. We are seeing an increase in the recurrence, longevity and diffusion of corruption, the incidence and severity of massive poverty for the suffering majority, degradation of the environment, depletion of our natural resources, selective actions in addressing crimes, volatility in communities previously characterised as stable, financial crises, high rate of youth unemployment, increase in crime rate and various forms of inequality. These trends are interconnected.
In our constitution and scores of international development programmes, we are signatories to, where our mandate directs us to respond to crises and support long-term democratic stability and progress, it is our experience that sustainable development is tied to the advancement of genuine democratic values to gain lasting peace and stability.
By cherry-picking a few cases, MCC Index attempts to sow doubt by implying that a few cases in their favour should be valued equally to the millions of cases to the contrary. Another dastardly manoeuvre MCC Index uses is to analyse a correlation between the extent of domestic and international democracy using alleged reports of international hired journalists, level of social safety and security, degree of militarisation and formulate the conclusion that the pattern of the majority in Sierra Leone to keep on smiling whilst suffering means progress in the areas they raised in their report. Presenting a causal link from simple correlations is another trick that can be used to imply a conclusion that simply isn’t true.
While MCC Index “research” can be quickly dismantled, it is cited by present regime propagandist of President Bio for scientific proof that their current actions are not affecting the democratic stands of Sierra Leone, which is causing an enormous national delay by the regime in responding to the many legitimate calls to address the present political tension in the contraption.
With lives on the line, it makes no difference whether Sierra Leone’s international denialists’ (Millennium Challenge Corporation) faulty science resulted from incompetence, unprofessional attitude towards Sierra Leoneans or malice. It is imperative to scrutinise every aspect of any data you are presented with: who funded it, how big the sample size was, whether they are analysing all information and if they are using valid statistical methods. Only then should you accept it as fact, and a strong background in statistics will greatly help you in this pursuit.
A century onward, perhaps Mark Twain’s adage is half correct; that statistics can be used by ne’er-do-wells, but they are also the last line of defence against lies and damned lies. The sentiment that numbers can’t lie is simply misguided, and the mathematical know-how to distinguish when someone is trying to lie to you with numbers is as much if not more important as the intellectual know-how to distinguish when someone is lying to you with words. Scrutinise every number, every figure and every error bar as closely as you would a word, a claim or a statement. When used properly, statistical analysis is the best resource we have to winnow truth from uncertainty through the scientific method. In the coming decades, each of you will have the power to change the world in your field, and I can only hope that you use the power of statistics for good and for truth. For the few of you who don’t, the rest of us will be watching.
If you still don’t think you need a firm grasp on statistics to be an informed citizen, Millennium Challenge Corporation Index has a fence for you to whitewash.