Blog author: jballor
by on Monday, April 10, 2006

Bryan Caplan at EconLog says that he has long wondered about the validity of the statistics of the spread of AIDS on the African continent:

The whole story had a quasi-Soviet flavor to it. The main difference: Soviet growth statistics were too good to be true, while African AIDS statistics were too bad to be true. Reflecting on the incentives cemented my skepticism: Just as the Soviet Union had a strong incentive to exaggerate its growth numbers in order to get the world’s respect, researchers and advocates had a strong incentive to exaggerate their AIDS number in order to get the world’s money.

He goes on to cite a recent Washington Post story that backs up his doubts. While Caplan may ultimately be wrong in his skepticism, I think it’s a responsible question to ask. Any system of charity or aid that faces an ongoing and high-level need should wonder about the incentives that it creates for people to take advantage of the system.

Update: More on “disease-mongering” at WorldMagBlog. I suspect there’s an analogous phenomenon in all the climate change, environmental disaster hubbub.

  • c. self

    I know that CIA website shows a very high rate of AIDS in Africa. Do you mean that those government figure is not based on the true statistics?

  • Jordan

    I have no idea how the CIA gathers statistics on these types of things. Perhaps they are relying on data provided by other governmental agencies.

    I also have no special insight into the situation in Africa. All I’m saying is that this is a legitimate and important question to ask in cases where there is some tangible benefit to be derived from the exaggeration of statistics.

  • Acton Institute PowerBlog

    Remember when I said that I thought there is a dangerous incentive in climate change research to make things seem worse than they are? (If not, that’s OK. I actually called it an “analogous phenomenon” to the possibility that AIDS statis