Podcast: Morten Jerven on how poor numbers undermine the fight against poverty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor today’s Humanosphere podcast, we are talking with Morten Jerven, a professor of economics and international development at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Jerven is also author of, among other things, a book called Poor Numbers: How We Are Misled by African Development Statistics and What to Do About It.

This may sound to most folks, who are hardly thrilled to think of reading about economics or statistics, like a pretty dry and stodgy book. But, in fact, it’s been highly controversial. And it is a stunning read with some great – or I guess terrible – examples showing how little we actually know about whether (or not) some African countries have gained or lost ground economically.

Why is it important to know this? Well, if we want to see the world become more stable – if we want to reduce the number of people living in poverty and improve equity – we need good data to guide our strategy and policies. And at a broader level, I would add, if Jerven is right in his critique focusing on what’s wrong with African development numbers we may want to take a harder look at some of the conventional wisdom governing how we set economic and development policies in the US and Europe.

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Jerven makes economics and statistics exciting! Take a listen. And as usual, Tom Paulson and I discuss some of the week’s biggest (or most bizarre) news including the shifting popular narrative on vaccines as indicated by the measles outbreak that sprang out of the Magic Kingdom, Syria’s neglected but ongoing massive refugee crisis and how Islamic State is trying to win hearts and minds by putting its brand on food aid.

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About Author

Gabe Spitzer

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago.