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The facts about the stats

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Let us ask the Lord for the grace that a new wave of love for our neighbour may sweep over this poor world.


Venerable Pope John Paul I

CCSJ Social Justice Education Committee


By Leela Ramdeen

Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI


“Good data and statistics are indispensable for informed decision-making by all actors in society”—Ban Ki-Moon, the then UN Secretary-General, 2015.



The first World Statistics Day was on October 20, 2015. The eleventh observance of Caribbean Statistics Day in CARICOM last Tuesday, October 15 had as its theme: Building the Resilience of the Caribbean Community, the same as last year’s because of its continued relevance to the Community.

Ban Ki-Moon (2015) reminded countries/organisations that when implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, “reliable and timely statistics and indicators are more important than ever”.

He acknowledged that “many countries have made considerable efforts to strengthen their national statistical capacity under the leadership of their national statistical offices.”

Let’s ensure that the vision and mission of our Central Statistical Office (CSO) become reality i.e. “to facilitate informed decision-making, through the timely provision of a quality, relevant, user-oriented and dynamic statistical service, coordinating statistical activities and promoting the adherence to statistical standards.”

A visit to the CSO’s website highlights certain deficiencies and we do not appear to have the information base for monitoring progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ban Ki-Moon said:”…the monitoring requirements for the success of the Sustainable Development Goals pose a significant challenge to even the most developed countries. We need a data revolution. We need to strengthen statistical capacity and tap into the potential of new technology. We need the contributions and expertise of data producers and users, academia, the private sector and civil society.”

He urged all partners/stakeholders “to work together to ensure that the necessary investments are made, adequate technical capacity is built, new data sources are explored and innovative processes are applied to give all countries the comprehensive information systems they need to achieve sustainable development.”

While I agree with Mark Twain that “statistics are pliable”, and with Albert Bertilsson that “Lack of statistics is to hide inconvenient facts,” we hinder progress by failing to do what is right.

While data won’t have all the answers, the public has a right to information that matters. Statistics can give us a picture of the state of the nation—unless the data is manipulated to serve the cause of certain individuals/groups/organisations.  But even if we have accurate data, what do we do with the information?

The media reported recently on the high levels of unemployment among youth in our country, and on Dr Pravinde Ramoutar’s statistics that as of September 2019, there were over 16,000 people registered at the SWRHA’s psychiatric outpatient clinics; 400 children and adolescents attending its Child Guidance Clinic, “with the number of young people and adults needing care expected to climb”.

I was happy to note that the SWRHA, with its catchment area of 600,000 people, will be using statistics to develop/implement programmes to educate/raise awareness of the population on issues of concern, e.g. on suicide prevention.

Statistics should inform legislation, policy, and procedures. Our data must be scattered e.g. in different Ministries. Who is pulling it together so that we can have reliable, up-to-date information?

To throw a spanner in the works, read William Davies’ article: ‘How statistics lost their power and why we should fear what comes next’ (UK Guardian, January 17, 2019).

Inter alia, he says: “The ability of statistics to accurately represent the world is declining. In its wake, a new age of big data controlled by private companies is taking over—and putting democracy in peril…in recent years, divergent levels of trust in statistics has become one of the key schisms that have opened up in western liberal democracies…

“Not only are statistics viewed by many as untrustworthy, there appears to be something almost insulting or arrogant about them. Reducing social and economic issues to numerical aggregates and averages seems to violate some people’s sense of political decency…

“Efforts to represent demographic, social and economic changes in terms of simple, well-recognised indicators are losing legitimacy…in recent years, a new way of quantifying and visualising populations has emerged that potentially pushes statistics to the margins, ushering in a different era altogether. Statistics, collected and compiled by technical experts, are giving way to data that accumulates by default, as a consequence of sweeping digitisation…

“Statistics began life as a tool through which the state could view society, but gradually developed into something that academics, civic reformers and businesses had a stake in. But for many data analytics firms, secrecy surrounding methods and sources of data is a competitive advantage that they will not give up voluntarily.”

The battle continues to be waged