Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict

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Overview

Big, attention-grabbing numbers are frequently used in policy debates and media reporting: "At least 200,000-250,000 people died in the war in Bosnia." "There are three million child soldiers in Africa." "More than 650,000 civilians have been killed as a result of the U.S. occupation of Iraq." "Between 600,000 and 800,000 women are trafficked across borders every year." "Money laundering represents as much as 10 percent of global GDP." "Internet child porn is a $20 billion-a-year industry."

Peter Andreas and Kelly M. Greenhill see only one problem: these numbers are probably false. Their continued use and abuse reflect a much larger and troubling pattern: policymakers and the media naively or deliberately accept highly politicized and questionable statistical claims about activities that are extremely difficult to measure. As a result, we too often become trapped by these mythical numbers, with perverse and counterproductive consequences.

This problem exists in myriad policy realms. But it is particularly pronounced in statistics related to the politically charged realms of global crime and conflict-numbers of people killed in massacres and during genocides, the size of refugee flows, the magnitude of the illicit global trade in drugs and human beings, and so on. In Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts, political scientists, anthropologists, sociologists, and policy analysts critically examine the murky origins of some of these statistics and trace their remarkable proliferation. They also assess the standard metrics used to evaluate policy effectiveness in combating problems such as terrorist financing, sex trafficking, and the drug trade.

Contributors: Peter Andreas, Brown University; Thomas J. Biersteker, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies-Geneva; Sue E. Eckert, Brown University; David A. Feingold, Ophidian Research Institute and UNESCO; H. Richard Friman, Marquette University; Kelly M. Greenhill, Tufts University and Harvard University; John Hagan, Northwestern University; Lara J. Nettelfield, Institut Barcelona D'Estudis Internacionals and Simon Fraser University; Wenona Rymond-Richmond, University of Massachusetts Amherst; Winifred Tate, Colby College; Kay B. Warren, Brown University

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"If you're a journalist, a gluttonous consumer of news, or are easily swayed by the slapdash, stop what you're doing and go buy a copy of Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict. Set aside a couple of hours tonight to read three or four of the essays that academics Peter Andreas and Kelly M. Greenhill collected in it. Then, sit down in front of your computer and send me an e-mail to thank me for helping to end your enslavement to the dodgy numbers that taint journalism and public policy. It's not just a good book. It's a great book. And it belongs forever on your bookshelf."—Jack Shafer, Slate, 14 July 2010

"Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts is terrific. It demonstrates that quantitative misrepresentation is not an idiosyncratic problem but one that is widespread and often detrimental. The authors make sense of the numbers that are thrown around so liberally by interested parties and which so often influence or even determine, important and costly public policies."—John Mueller, Ohio State University

"Statistics can be like sausages: the more you know about how they're produced, the less appetizing they seem. Each essay in this excellent collection explores how political considerations rework best guesses and stab-in-the-dark estimates into 'hard numbers' that, in turn, are used to justify international policies on human trafficking, illicit drugs, and warfare. Readers risk losing their complacent confidence in 'what the data show.'"—Joel Best, University of Delaware, author of Stat-Spotting: A Field Guide to Identifying Dubious Data

"This is a terrific, innovative, and coherent volume that combines the insights of The Wire with outstanding recent scholarship. Puncturing many myths—sometimes uncomfortably so—chapters both systematic and vivid show the dangers of basing public policy on numbers that no one should count on, including exaggerating numbers of victims or, the opposite, deliberately downplaying gross state violations. The authors show how and why unreliable numbers persist, what it takes—politically and methodologically—to develop better estimates, and why it matters. Not uncontroversial, Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts will be of great interest to social scientists, policy wonks, and the wider reading public."—Lynn Eden, Stanford University

"Scoffing at the politicization of numbers in policy debates is now standard fare. This book is the first to move from scoffing to a serious analysis of the process of politicization."—Peter Reuter, University of Maryland College Park

"This intriguing collection of essays is a refreshing counterpoint to the all too commonly accepted view that numbers and only numbers matter to scholarship and to policy and that such numbers are but neutral and accurate reflections of fact. This volume ably demonstrates the dangers of problematic statistics and dubious measures in the fields of armed conflict and transnational crime. Its findings should generate an abundance of healthy skepticism."—Martha Crenshaw, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801448614
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2010
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kelly M. Greenhill is Assistant Professor of Government at Tufts University and a Research Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. She is coeditor of Sex, Drugs, and Body Counts: The Politics of Numbers in Global Crime and Conflict, also from Cornell.

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