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Argentine Statistics Making Turnaround

1 February 2016 297 views No Comment

Graciela Bevacqua back in leadership position

Within days of a new government, Graciela Bevacqua was announced as the technical director of the Argentine National Institute of Statistics and Census (INDEC), the agency from which she was fired in 2007 under the previous government for defending the integrity of INDEC inflation data.

The move is one step closer to vindication for Bevacqua, who in 2011 was charged with both criminal and civil fines for producing independently developed price indexes. The two civil fines have been revoked, but the criminal charge remains to be resolved after the appeal of a ruling in Bevacqua’s favor.

Jay Kadane, praised the most recent news: “I’m delighted to hear of Graciela’s reinstatement at INDEC and that her long ordeal of harassment and human rights violations by the Argentine government is nearly over. She has had to endure a lot, for which the statistical community owes her a great deal of gratitude in her steadfast defense of freedom of the press and the integrity of government statistics.”

The American Statistical Association, with the leadership of its Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights (CSFHR), was active in advocating for Bevacqua and her colleagues because of ASA’s stances on scientific freedom and its strong statements for the necessity of objective and independent government statistics. The troubling situation and the ASA’s work to address it are described in Amstat News in “Politics and Statistics Collide in Argentina” and Significance in “A Life in Statistics: Graciela Bevacqua”. The Significance article describes the extent of the harassment by the Argentine government upon Bevacqua.

In an email to the ASA, Bevacqua expressed her happiness over her return to INDEC and noted the challenges that lie ahead.

Among the challenges ahead, according to Jean-Louis Bodin, is that the Argentine laws on official statistics are obsolete and therefore not able to protect the independence of the statistical system. Bodin also said passing a new law will be difficult because the supporters of the previous president of the nation, Cristina Kirchner, still have a slim majority in congress. Bodin—former president of the International Statistical Institute, an ASA fellow, and one of the main drafters of the UN Resolution on Fundamental Principles for Official Statistics—has been one of the leaders in defending the integrity of Argentine statistics through, for example, two visits in 2009 and 2010 to support Bevacqua and her colleagues.

Another challenge will be to produce credible and reliable economic statistics again. Soon after the December announcement of changes in INDEC’s senior leadership, Bloomberg News reported that INDEC will delay the publishing of its economic indicators after the new directors found the agency “in a state of deterioration and lacking qualified staff.” Bloomberg quoted Bevacqua: “We can reveal what we suspected, which is that we found a consumer price index that had been completely dismantled. There’s no supervision, which means we will have to fill the positions with qualified people.”

Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights Concerned About New Dubai Statistics Law

The Dubai government issued a new law November 25, 2015, on the Dubai Statistics Center that purportedly “aims to develop and enable the center to establish an advanced statistics system in the emirate.”

Drawing concern from the ASA Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights (CSFHR), the law prohibits any private entity from conducting “any survey without obtaining authorization from the center, and such authorization is subject to the center’s approved policies and procedures.” Given the apparent desire by the Dubai government to control private sector statistics, CSFHR is also concerned about whether the Dubai Statistics Center will have the independence and autonomy necessary to issue objective, credible statistics.

Indeed, Jay Kadane, 2013–2015 chair of CSFHR, warned of possible consequences of the new law in The National, a prominent United Arab Emirates newspaper, that the new law would likely lead to the spread of “uninformed rumors and uncertainty about the extent of the downturn [in Dubai’s property market]. This will do far more harm to Dubai’s economy than allowing private surveys to be conducted and published. International investors, in particular, are sensitive to the quality of the information available to them in deciding where to invest.”

CSFHR is gathering information about the law and will continue to monitor the situation.

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