Numbers are a dirty business

Celia Dugger, whose articles I still find frustrating, has written about the global decline in child mortality over the past twenty years. Dugger commits a popular sin in journalism: reporting absolute numbers instead of ratios or percentages. Giving absolutes can be intentionally misleading – how often have you seen a headline which reads “greatest number of job losses since 1425?”

Luckily, Karin Grepin jumps in with a detailed discussion of the numbers:

The announcement was that there has been a decline in the number – or level – of child deaths, which I thought was an unusual metric to report. The number of deaths is a function of the number of women, the number of births per woman, and proportion of children that die. When I think child mortality, I think just the last of these components. Fertility has been on the decline and it could very well be that we now have less deaths because there are just less births. But as it turns out, this is not what happened because of a nifty little phenomenon that demographers like to call “population momentum”. Since there are more women alive, we still have more births even with lower fertility. We have actually seen a nearly proportional decline in the actual under 5 mortality rate (deaths per live birth).

Read the rest of Grepin’s discussion of the article on here blog here.

This is also an excellent opportunity to mention Grepin’s working paper on the negative impact of HIV/AIDS targeted funding on the general health sector available here, which is a must-read.

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