Monday, December 3, 2007

And Just How Did You Get Those Numbers?

First there was a movement for transparency in government. But the need for transparency in data is growing stronger by the day. And by transparency in data, I mean more than just the free and easy access to authenticated figures and official statistics--transparency in data must also include publishing the methods used to derive those numbers.

Mixed messages. Late last month the UN released new statistics, saying that 33 million people worldwide are infected with HIV instead of 40 million. More recently, the CDC reported that the number of new HIV infections in the U.S. each year is probably closer to 60,000 people rather than the long-cited stat of 40,000.

The CDC says it will release its methodology very soon. But so far, we haven't heard anything from the UN about how they came by their new numbers. That's a bit of a puzzle since some epidemiologists and demographers have been very public in their criticisms of the UN's approach to counting HIV infections.

To give just one example, check out James Chin's The AIDS Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology with Political Correctness. Chin used to be director of the World Health Organization's Global Program on AIDS and so should know what he's talking about.

Alas, a few folks in the blogosphere have latched on to Chin's critiques as further justification for their own AIDS denialism. Their histrionics are obscuring the real story behind the numbers.

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