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China, Cuba and Castro: Education and statistics



However much I respect statisticians like Ted Anderson, their problems are far from settled. The Economist (3/16-22/02) has a feature article about Chinese official statistics entitled "How cooked are the books?" Its answers are confirmed by Paul Simon, who writes "I say to Tim Brown, "Hang in there!". Any academic or WAISer who accepts statistics from an authoritarian regime without an objective second source is quite possibly not worth their academic salt!

The Chinese regime systematically lies to suit its advantage (remember the article on bogus fishery catches or my citation of the Beijing authorities even lying about the outdoor temperature in summer (see Jasper Becker's The Chinese for confirmation). Local authorities regularly inflate (or deflate as shows them in the best light) numbers sent to the center. Beijing often is clueless as to the truth or prefers not to know. Xinhua, the OFFICIAL Chinese news service recently carried an article admitting that 62,000 official statistics were false last year. I don't know why we should believe this number either!

What can you say about a regime that is so afraid of facts and so steeped in mendacity that it fudges the facts about things easily checked, be they literacy (one gives a reading test) or the outdoor temperature (grade schoolers can make a simple alcohol thermometer)? WAIS has also posted my strong doubts about PRC literacy statistics. Even if I believed the numbers, the definition of being literate is so lax that someone who can't write a note to his wife, read the paper or a grocery list, or read simple job instructions can still be qualified as "literate" by the PRC government.

Tim and his detractors might find that some of the source of dueling statistics is occasionally a mater of definition. Tim's studies seem to cite accepted international standards. I wonder if the authoritarian regimes use the same test standards. It would seem not." Tim's method is criticized by Hank Levin:

"Tim Brown ought to be challenged to explain which UNESCO survey of literacy he is referring to. To my knowledge, the first actual survey of literacy in Latin America by UNESCO was not done until the late 1990's. Students were actually tested across countries using a common methodology and statistical analysis of results. Perhaps Tim Brown is referring to the surveys of countries for the UN Yearbook in which the result is self-reported by each country. Precision is called for instead of using political leanings to determine the veracity of results and equating the usual self-reporting of literacy rates with direct measurement of literacy across countries by an outside agency. Tim Brown owes it to us to tell us which "scientific study" found that Nicaraguenses were assigned rates of literacy by UNESCO of 84 percent. If WAISers are unable to cite the sources that we can gain access to to verify their claims, they ought not make the claims".

I would be happy if Ted Anderson would comment. Otherwise, we must simply suspend discussion o this particular topic.

Ronald Hilton - 3/21/02


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