Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts

Friday, July 30, 2010


Numbers we encounter in the media are often, to say the least, untrustworthy. Some, like casualty figures in Darfur, may be deflated, some, like the street value of drugs, may be inflated, and still others are simply pulled by institutions out of thin air. Brown University professor Peter Andreas, co-editor of Sex, Drugs and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict, says that numbers are even chosen because of how they’ll sound on the news.

Comments [5]

Brazil from Bazil

I'm from Brazil and this book does not sell here somebody know how I can purchase this book?

Nov. 03 2010 02:52 PM
Johanna Berger from Bala Cynwyd, PA

My grandfather always said, "liars figure and figures lie."

Aug. 02 2010 01:04 PM
Kahlid from Philly PA

Thanks for this.

The host of "Tell Me More" is always quoting numbers and stats, it seems, in an atempt to push an agenda.

Aug. 02 2010 12:56 AM
Kevin Ashley from Redwood City, CA

As for the magic number 50,000, I remember an interview with (I believe) John Walsh about the number of children abducted each year. The interviewee said that he didn't have a real number but he thought about how big the problem must be in his home state of Florida and reckoned it must be 1000. Then he thought his must be true in all states and thus estimated that the number for all of the USA was 50,000 (50 x 1000).

I am sure this could account for many such estimates.

Aug. 01 2010 05:47 PM
Bill Sell from Milwaukee

Excellent piece on numbers. There is yet another aspect of numbers that needs your attention: context.

I am recalling an "investigative journalist's" report on a new rail system here in Wisconsin. In discussing the material on the radio, the three voices (interviewer, two reporters) sounded like they put exclamation marks after a figure of $15 million - the State's cost to run this line annually (after federal investment dollars).

But there was no context. The larger context might be the source of that $15 million, a piece of the State's transportation budget, which exceeds $5.6 billion (really!! - I did get this number from their budget report).

Comparing 15 million to 5.6 billion gives us 0.3 percent, relatively a tiny fraction of the budget. And it is that fraction that gives the citizens the ability to ponder the relative value of the governor's proposition.

By the way, and this takes us back to your point in this report: A few months later the $15 million figure, in fact, was reduced by Department of Transportation to $7 million. The investigative journalists left the $15 million figure untouched on their website.

Aug. 01 2010 05:06 PM

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