Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Bill Crawford's "Good News"

Taking over from the late (only in terms of his blog), unlamented Art Chrenkoff, Bill Crawford attempts to lull us into a sense of optimism about the state of Iraq in this January 9 article.

Reading this piece, I am reminded of two things: (a) the plural of "anecdote" is not "data," and (b) data without context is nothing.

So let's address the points in his first paragraph:


By the end of 2006, more than 2,600 projects had been completed. The supply of energy has been increased to 1.3 million homes, oil production is at 2.2 million bpd, 838 schools have been rehabilitated or constructed, 239 kilometers of road have been fixed, and 15 hospital rehabilitation projects have been completed.

Only one of those figures, the one about oil production, contains any data that is actually useful. This is the only one that gives us an aggregate figure of a metric by which to measure success in Iraq, as opposed to some small piece of information (e.g., that the supply of energy has been increased hto 1.3 million homes does not tell us how much, or how many other homes had the supply of energy reduced, or how the total energy picture has changed)?

And that one figure he mentions is devoid of context. When looking at the oil production in Iraq, as shown in this BBC article, we find that oil production has been hovering around 2 million barrels per day from November 2003 to March 2006, so 2.2 could just meanthat we are currently at a "peaky" month.

The next two sections, "Iraqi Forces" and "Security Operations" are essentially a bunch of anecdotes and generalized assertions without any real hard statistical data.

The next section, "Reconstruction," contains this statement:

As of November 2006, Iraq’s oil production stood at 2.5 million barrels per day.

which makes one wonder why he gave the 2.2 million figure earlier, or if we have lost capacity since November.

He does link to an article giving specific data on Iraqi marshlands (they have gone from 90% destroyed under Saddam to 50% restored).

The next set of bullet-pointed data are equally unimpressive. He does give a little more info about hte elctricity situation, that the 1.3 million homes getting increased electricity are due to the fact that "1,420 MW of power have been added to the Iraqi power grid." Nonetheless, we do not get any context to tell us what the electricity picture has been like from May 2003 up to now, whether those 1,420 MW actually increase Iraqi electricity production to new heights or simply restore 1,420 MW that were lost previously, etc. He gives similar statistics about water purification, and reiterates the 2.2 million bpd figure along with an equally contextless figure about natural gas.

Finally, he lists "American Heroes," which names some very impressive soldiers, but which tells us nothing about whether we are succeeding in Iraq.

In his next article for January 25, he dispenses with such niceties as aggregate statistics altogether and simply lists anecdotes with no context at all.

I recall somewhere reading or hearing someone say that demanding metrics for vicotry in Iraq was a sure way to lose; what he obviously really meant was that there are no metrics by which we could be seen to be winning, so we must avoid setting any metrics so that we can convince ourselves that we are winning and thus keep staying in Iraq and hoping for a miracle.

Obviously, Bill Crawford is a strong believer in the "avoid using metrics when they don't favor you" school. The sad thing is, it seems that that is the philosophy of the people who are fighting this war.
That is all.

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