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The media’s presentation of statistics

Dear Editor,

Your editorial of Saturday February 23 featured a headline “The complexity of Bahamian unemployment” that was encouraging to anyone who tires of the oversimplified and just plain ignorant presentation of facts and statistics in Bahamian media. It then dove headlong into one of the worst examples of both genres.

In the third paragraph you suggested that the rise in unemployment from 10 percent in May 2018 to 10.7 percent in November of the same year represents an upward trend in unemployment. It does not. Because no intelligent analysis of unemployment trends can be based upon a comparison of May to November. Rather, you would have to compare May 2018 to May 2017, or October 2018 to October 2017, to make an informed determination as to whether unemployment is rising or falling.

The Guardian should know that the reason the census is taken twice a year is because unemployment is cyclical, with May representing the high point and November the low point of employment every year. Yet every year it repeats the same mistake, with unemployment falling in May and rising in November. It is equivalent to reporting in December that, because temperatures are noticeably lower than they were last June, there has commenced a period of global cooling.

This is why policymakers in every other country on earth know to compare corresponding months or quarters of successive years. That journalists, politicians, talk show hosts and the general public of The Bahamas seem not to know this confirms just how informationally deficient a culture we are. This in turn leads to bad policy.

A few days ago a young lady was on television presenting the government’s reasons for believing (wrongly) that there is a sensible case for us to join the WTO. Here was a government spokesperson (presumably with access to all government statistics) arguing, with a straight face, that a country with a completely open economy, which imports 90 percent of what it consumes (and exports nothing) needs desperately to join an organization that exists solely to force members to open their economies to imports.

The absurdity of the principal argument for joining the WTO is laughable when placed in context. Proponents suggest that a country that has unilaterally achieved a far higher level of openness and global integration than virtually any member of the WTO risks being ‘left behind’ if it does not join them. Yet how many Bahamians are sufficiently acquainted with the facts and statistics to understand that context? Apparently not even the young lady presented as a government spokesperson.

This and other bad and informationally baseless ideas only persist because the media and civil society do not keep the public sufficiently informed of even the most basic facts and features of the country.

The Guardian can and should do better than adding to the atmosphere of general ignorance that bedevils this country.

— Andrew Allen

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