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Will new, positive findings allow Jeffrey Sachs to stop shouting back at the critics?

Jeff Sachs

The renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs, now director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, seems to irritate people — which also seems to prompt his critics to engage in vitriolic attacks of his efforts to combat global poverty and inequity.

The debates centered around Sachs remind me of some of the people I’d meet as a boy attending church, those folks who would argue angrily, endlessly and insultingly over fundamental disagreements about how best to love thy neighbor.

Whatever one may think about Sachs’ methodology or personality, can’t we all at least agree he has done a lot to promote the causes of global health, social justice and equity? For one, Sachs helped craft the Millennium Development Goals — which, if imperfect, gave the world a strategy for improving global health, reducing poverty and improving the lives of the poor worldwide.

One of Sachs’ biggest projects today is known as the Millennium Villages Project. Not surprisingly, it has been pilloried by many aid experts who say there is no evidence the project does any good.

Well, according to The Guardian, there is now evidence of good from Sachs’ Millennium Villages Project:

Death rates among children under five at the Millennium Villages – set up in Africa to demonstrate what is possible if health, education, agriculture and other development needs are tackled simultaneously – have fallen by a third in three years compared with similar communities, according to the project’s first results.

Sachs, in characteristic form, explodes all over the media with these positive findings to announce a breakthrough in the Huffington Post and to suggest, for CNN, that these results show that we can finally achieve “the dream of health for all, even the poorest of the poor… (This) can become a reality because of recent breakthroughs in technology and health systems.”

A bit over the top, yes, but that’s just the way Jeff likes to talk. You need to keep in mind he started on his campaign against poverty and the diseases of poverty back in the days when, well, hardly anybody gave a damn. He had to shout. And he’s still shouting.

So now, finally, he has some data to back his claims up and can maybe stop shouting.

Or maybe not. As Nature News notes, the findings aren’t likely to stop the critics:

“The core of the problem is lack of transparency and careful, independent analysis,” says Michael Clemens, a migration and development researcher at the Center for Global Development, an independent research institution in Washington DC.

The aid blogger Roving Bandit notes that even if child mortality declined in the Millennium Villages, the project itself found no statistical impr0vements in poverty, nutrition, education or other child health indices.

So I guess, no, the answer appears to be the shouting is likely to continue.


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.