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Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

The development community is increasingly demanding statistics to backup requests for funding and as proof of progress. It is increasingly difficult to receive funding or garner confidence in a project without the numbers to back it up. Not only does this create implications for development issues and progress that are difficult to quantify, but also for communities that lack the ability to gather data and the sophisticated knowledge to properly manipulate the data into usable statistics.

"The 3rd South African progress report on the MDGs reflects that South Africa is one of few African countries with adequate data for purposes of the MDGs. In particular for MDG 3, 4, and 5, South Africa has a sophisticated data registration system and on MDG1, South Africa conducts regular income and expenditure surveys. Yet despite these advantages, the MDG process has laid bare some of the serious deficiencies in data quality as well as data gaps. As a consequence of quality issues, some data items remained hotly contested. An overwhelming majority of African countries do not have data for measuring MDGs.

"African countries have mobilised under the banner of the Africa Symposium for Statistical Development (ASSD) to conduct a census
in the 2010 Round of Population and Housing Censuses. The ASSD has now run for five years with the theme Africa Counts. The next theme will be to ensure that the vital registration systems work in and for Africa. In this regard, African ministers of home affairs took a resolution that African
statisticians prioritise the production of vital statistics and ensure that a credible raft of statistics in Africa is created."

Implications from Institute for the Future:

This signal draws on many different implications, from the ethics of quantifying the seemingly unquantifiable to the naturally exclusionary effects of living in a statistics world.

Statistics and econometrics are highly sophisticated fields of study that when not properly understood can create very strong but inaccurate results. The dangers of relying too heavily on statistics can be seen in the common mistake of relating correlation with causation, done throughout the world.

Additionally, as the signal shows, Africa suffers from a strong lack of data and therefore is perhaps left behind on some important issues. As an example, Agriscientists have struggles with maximizing African agricultural output due to a lack of soil data on a continental scale like what is available in Europe and other place.

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Sources:

South Africa Node October 2010, pg. 8:
http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SA-Node_Oct2010.pdf#page=8

African Soil Data:
http://www.africasoils.net/about