Taking credit

When you have a moment, I'd really like to see your source for that

While the Millennium Village Project’s shaky claim of reducing child mortality resulted in an impressive backlash, these sorts of assertions are not uncommon. Very frequently, donors, NGOs and philanthropists make unsubstantiated claims to impact which go unchallenged, either because they go unnoticed by those who know better or because we’re all just too busy to raise the alarm every time someone makes a bogus claim (or, perhaps, we’re being funded by said entity).

For example, take this tweet by Oxfam international:

That’s quite a claim. What does Oxfam have to back up this claim? The tweet links to an article in the Ghana Business News:

Speaking at a ceremony in Bolgatanga to introduce phase II of the project and to present the donation g, Mrs Rosemary Anderson Akolaa,, Health Advocacy Manager of Oxfam lauded the effort of the TBAs, the Community Health Committees and other stakeholders for their effort at bringing reducing mortality rate in the Region by seven per cent in 2010.

So, one of Oxfam’s managers in Ghana made the claim – what is it based on? To make this claim, Oxfam needs to:

  1. Describe the data it is using to estimate the 7% drop in maternal mortality.
  2. Convincingly show us that this drop is due to Oxfam’s (and partner’s) intervention. For example, did maternal mortality in the Upper East region fall faster than in other regions which did not receive the intervention?
As far as I can tell, Oxfam has done neither of these. Can we stop making claims we haven’t yet made an effort to back up?

Not the P-word again

I’ve been using the word ‘porn’ so much recently I wonder what sort of google results this site is getting. Tim Samuels in the Guardian has written about the potential impacts of the porn industry on developing countries.

The village has no electricity, but that doesn’t stop a generator from being wheeled in, turning a mud hut into an impromptu porn cinema – and turning some young men into rapists, with villagers relating chilling stories of assaults taking place straight after the film’s end. In the nearest city, other young men are buying bootlegs copies of the almost always condom-free LA-made porn – copying directly what they see and contracting HIV. The head of the country’s Aids commission says porn risks destroying all the achievements they’ve made. It’s a timebomb, he says.

A timebomb? I’m not denying that pornography can influence young men’s perceptions of women and sex, but doesn’t this article seem a little alarmist… and a bit patronising? Aren’t there selection effects at play here? Samuels is always worried about the norms of prophylactic use being supported:

Since the only sex education some people in places such as Ghana are getting is via porn films, there is a decent argument for the porn industry to produce more films where performers use condoms. In LA, where the majority of the world’s porn is still shot, only one company routinely makes such films. The condom-only policy adopted following an industry HIV outbreak five years ago lasted just months.

According to the HDR, the Ghanaian contraceptive prevalence rate was 25% in 2008. Are we really to believe that porn is going to make or break this? Perhaps it is time for donors to break into the business and produce some more responsible pornographic films. When it comes time for the randomised impact assessment, call me.

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown


From time to time I get writer’s block, especially when writing on a blog. Sometimes there’s just nothing that leaps out at you – nothing that begs to be written about. I had that problem today, that is, until I read this BBC News headline:

Dutch return head of Ghana king

Tribal elders led a ceremony in The Hague to hand over the head of Badu Bonsu II, stored in formaldehyde in a Dutch museum for 170 years.

Arthur Japin, a Dutch author who researched King Bonsu, says the head was brought to the Netherlands, possibly by mistake, shortly after the king was killed.

Right, a little creepy, especially since the Dutch appear to have some sort of infatuation with formaldehyde:

A Dutch general had been asked to bring back “heads” from Ghana to be studied by a famous phrenologist……….During the voyage home the general died, and he too was preserved in formaldehyde.

What on earth? According to the article, the Dutch and the Ghanaians disagree on how the King was killed. I think the Dutch don’t really have much room to argue considering they stole his head!