The politics of globally published data: looking at World Bank data on China

Useful reading for anyone using data put out by international agencies

Statistics prepared by international agencies are valued because they are considered accurate and reliable. But are they? Two stories about World Bank statistics tell us how the data it compiles are vulnerable to manipulation by interested parties. National and international statistical offices always operate in the tension between professional standards of objectivity and political insistence on certain results. The political economy of statistics needs to become a serious field of study. 

This the summary of Robert Wade’s short article in the EPWAcceding to a Chinese demand, the US government offers World Bank data on a platter. The author concludes –  

National and international statistical offices always operate in the tension between professional standards of objectivity and political insistence on certain results. Whenever a measure is used as a performance target, those who measure are vulnerable to this tension. As the Chinese proverb says, “Officials make the figures, and the figures make the officials”.


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