Press Release: Carnegie Mellon’s Joseph B. Kadane Urges Argentina To Stop Repressing Statisticians-Carnegie Mellon News - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, December 3, 2012

Press Release: Carnegie Mellon’s Joseph B. Kadane Urges Argentina To Stop Repressing Statisticians

Kadane Will Brief DC Lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Dec. 6

Contact: Shilo Rea / 412-268-6094 / shilo@cmu.edu

Jay KadanePITTSBURGH—For the past several years, Argentina’s government has not provided accurate statistics on the country’s inflation rates. In fact, to prevent truthful figures from being released, the government has gone so far as firing staff at its national statistics agency and fining and filing criminal charges against statisticians who publish inflation estimates that are not approved by the government.

On Thursday, Dec. 6, Carnegie Mellon University’s Joseph B. (Jay) Kadane will brief Capitol Hill lawmakers on the situation and its potential to disrupt the international economy. Kadane, who in January 2013 will become chair of the American Statistical Association (ASA) Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights, will urge them to implement policies that will protect statisticians from persecution by countries that commit such egregious violations of human rights. The briefing will take place at 9 a.m. in room B-369 of the Rayburn House Office Building at Independence Avenue and South Capitol Street.

“To understand the importance of providing accurate economic indicators, just look at Greece,” said Kadane, the Leonard J. Savage University Professor of Statistics and Social Sciences, Emeritus, in CMU’s Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “For years, the Greek government lied about its deficit numbers. Argentina is now taking a similar path. We have to stop this from happening and protect the statisticians and organizations who are trying to report economic numbers accurately.”

Argentina’s political and economic situation has been highly unstable since 2002, when the government defaulted on $93 billion in government bonds. The default caused a chain of events that left the Argentinean government without international loan options. Therefore, it has to find other ways to finance itself and its economy.

The repression of statisticians reporting accurate inflation rates began as a maneuver to bolster the government’s domestic support.  In 2007, staff members responsible for collecting price statistics at the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INDEC) — Argentina’s national statistics agency — were fired. The former chief of that unit, Graciela Bevaqua, and others continued to publish inflation estimates gathered privately. In response, the Argentinean government fined Bevaqua and the others $150,000 each and launched a criminal case against her and economist Nicholas Salvatore.

Despite an Argentinean judge’s recent ruling against the government in the criminal case, the government can still file an appeal and statisticians remain repressed because the fines have not been adjudicated, leaving others fearful of hefty fines and possible criminal proceedings. Additionally, the government has taken various actions to prevent the country’s media from reporting on the controversy.

Statistical organizations and others worldwide have begun to respond to the situation. In 2009, ASA President Sally Morton wrote a letter to the Argentinean Statistical Society supporting its defense of INDEC’s independence from political interference. A 2011 letter from ASA to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression was supported by the International Statistical Institute, Institute of Mathematical Statistics and the national statistical societies of Brazil, France, Korea and the United Kingdom.

Most recently, in August 2012, ASA’s Joint Statistical Meeting in San Diego held a session on the repression of statistics and statisticians in Argentina. The Argentina embassy sent a letter to ASA justifying the government’s actions by claiming that private inflation estimates caused fruit and vegetable wholesalers to lose business. ASA responded in a letter by stating, “Under no circumstances can fines and threats of criminal sanctions for developing and presenting independent statistical estimates or data be justified.”

Additionally, in February 2012, The Economist announced that it had removed Argentina’s economic numbers from its indicators page, citing that “since 2007, Argentina’s government has published inflation numbers that almost nobody believes.”

“It is time to stop writing letters and figure out a way to prevent Argentina’s government from prohibiting the independent reporting of statistics,” Kadane said. “The rights to free speech and press in Argentina are at stake. We must implement strategies to stop this from happening in Argentina and to deter other governments from engaging in similar behaviors.”

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Jay Kadane, pictured above, says, it is time to figure out a way to prevent Argentina’s government from prohibiting the independent reporting of statistics on the country's inflation rates. Kadane will brief Capitol Hill lawmakers on the situation in Argentina and its potential to disrupt the international economy on Thursday, Dec. 6.