Thursday, June 14, 2007


Research is often like a quest. You start with a question that sounds impossible to answer: how much aid leaks into military spending, or how much of Africa's wealth has fled the continent. How would you go about answering those questions? Ask each third-world army where it got its money? Knock on the doors of the Swiss banks and ask them to report their African accounts? There is a different way of getting to the answers, and it is statistical. This stands in contrast to the crude images that often provide us with what we think we know about the world. For rebellion, as an example, the image is often that of Che Guevara, ubiqitous in my generation on student walls. The poster did our thinking for us. Our notions about the problems of the poorest countries are saturated with such images: not just of noble rebels but of starving children, heartless businesses, crooked politicians. You are held prisoner by these images. While you are held prisoner, so are our politicians, because they do what you want. I am going to take you beyond images. Sometimes I am going to smash them And my image smasher is statistical evidence.
-- Paul Collier, in his introduction to The Bottom Billion

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