Mittwoch, Juli 19, 2006

Another unfinished post...

Finally we're off for vacation and blogging here will be even worse than normal. But here is yet another unfinished post, or rather I got too disgusted to go any farther...

My father sent me this.

I took a brief look at it.

First of all, it's very subjective, yet uses a numerical index to suggest that there is an objective basis for what they are saying. This is fundamentally dishonest: you cannot, legitimately, express uncertainties (subjective evaluations) as a number, which is based on objective analysis. This must be done rather with valences (such as +++ or ----) rather than a number. In my work, the moment where we start using numbers that are not based on "real" facts, we no longer publish them as numbes, but rather use valences. Otherwise you are misleading your customers that you have the real numbers, and in the commercial environment you will be found out and you will lose your reputation. Shame that this is apparenly not the case here. Shoddy work at best and deliberate misleading at worst...

Secondly, the environmental footprint claims to include something that I know as a professional international economist can't be included: they claim to be able to reduce the footprint of a country by excluding products and services that are exported, counting these instead with the importing country.

I work extensively with import-export data (UNIDO, UNCTAD, COMEXT databases are part of my daily bread and butter) and there are no such numbers available on the basis that they are claiming (of being able to identify which El Salvdorean bananas are sold to the US and consumed by the US, for example). While there are direction of trade statistics, and there are detailed direction of trade by product numbers available (this is the UNCTAD data set: roughly 6 mn time series!), the ownership of those products cannot be determined, and indeed is the basis for developing the statistics: anonymity is guaranteed and there is no way for this group to have ***any*** idea of whether a Chaquita plantation produces for the local market, whether it produces for a secondary downstream manufacturer located locally or whether it delivers directly to the mother company. This would make a HUGE difference in terms of how the ecological footprint is measured. I am professionally unaware of any one who claims to have world trade modelled at even a two-digit level of detail, let alone the 6-digit level of detail that the UNCTAD data base offers.

If they are working with proxies, these are not stated. Again, very poor.

And **if** they are working with the raw UNCTAD data, I'd like to know how they summate the data: is this an averaged number, is it simply the most recent data, is it modelled for the future, what? After all, they should have a forecast, since they are looking at things like

Third, only one of the three indicators is "real". This goes back to the first point. The life satisfaction and the environmental footprint are subjective or are based on proxied data; only the life expectancy is "real", and even here it appears that it is modified to account for some sort of "happiness" factor. There is a fundamental truth in economic modelling: GIGO. Garbage in, garbage out. You can have the most exquisite models, but unless they are properly fed and cared for, they are useless.

I really wish that ideology wouldn't drive such attempts to make guesswork appear scientific. Economics is called the dismal science because it is the only branch of the human sciences that insists on at least a modicum of actual data and empirical verification of correlations and causality. If these folks were honest, they'd be using Chernekov faces instead of trying to look objective.

The goal of the group is not furthered by making numbers up. If anything, they make me very suspect of whatever their goal is, given that they are presenting subjective judgements as objective evaluations. And arguing that it is better to have something rather than nothing doesn't hold water: they are deliberately presenting these subjective evaluations as if they were objective facts.

Columbia as being one of the happiest places around? Give me a break: murderours drug wars, coupled with significant abject poverty. The only reason that they are so highly ranked is that their ecological footprint is "calculated" to be so low. This fails a first, basic assessment of how believeable their product is. It isn't.

Sorry to be so harsh, but I've run into too much bad "science" recently, of ideologically-driven "science" masquerading as "truth". Doing science properly is hard work and more often than nowarding: the benefits, especially in this area, of making stuff up (Mann et al with their hockey stick curve) for personal glory and financial gain are very seductive and very destructive. And the claim of a consensus is facetious at best and downright dishonest at worst.

Posting will be sporadic for the next several weeks...

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