Blog author: jballor
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?

  • 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.

  • 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