The Nation Tries Statistical Sleight of Hand

Mar 22nd, 2010 | By | Category: The Nation

Once again, The Nation has attempted to pull a statistical sleight of hand trick, making claims about the economy that are not supported by the underlying data. While mistakes are somtimes made, this seems to be an ongoing problem for The Nation, and the pattern suggests that the newspapers editors are either not properly reviewing reports before they are published, or are intentionally misleading their readers.

The present case refers to an article published on March 21, 2010 with no byline titled, “Inflation swings upward.” In this article, the author quotes several statistics from the Federal Bureau of Statistics’ Sensitive Price Indicator (SPI) for the Week Ended March 18, 2010 which can be downloaded here.

All of the statistics quoted by The Nation are based on week-by-week changes. While these are certainly interesting numbers, they are too micro-focused to be able to correctly identify a trend. It is as if a batsman hit a six, and his team was declared winning even though they were behind 272 overall. Better is to look at statistics over a period of time to determine what the trends are.

Monthly, Quarterly,and Half-yearly SPI statistics are published on page 3 of the FBS report, but these statistics were not quoted by The Nation.

Looking at these statistics presents a much different picture than what The Nation tries to paint for its readers. While there has been some increase over recent months, SPI has actually been fairly stable.

Also, SPI is only one metric in measuring economic growth. The Nation appears to have latched onto this as a convenient way to attempt to paint the present government as insensitive to the most vulnerable citizens. However, financial reporting by respected business media paint a very different picture of the economy at present.

BusinessWeek reported on March 11 that “Pakistan Inflation Slows in February for First Time in 4 Months.”

Pakistan’s inflation slowed in February for the first time in four months, giving the central bank room to cut interest rates and support economic growth.

The Nation also does not mention that the statistics that it quotes are for the week ending March 18th. In the weeks prior to this, there was no Finance Minister at the helm of the economy. It was only then that Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was named Finance Minister.

Inflation in the economy is a difficult problem to solve even for nations that are not suffering near-daily attacks from terrorist militants. The media should be presenting good information to the people so that they can make informed decisions and help government leaders to create the conditions for a prosperous economy that benefits everyone. Playing games with numbers and presenting misleading statistics is not only bad journalism, it’s bad for the country.

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