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Puerto Rico Statistics Institute’s exclusion in revision of storm-related deaths criticized

By on January 12, 2018

SAN JUAN — While uncertainty continues over the actual number of deaths that can be attributed to Hurricane Maria, the American Statistics Association (ASA) debated the exclusion of the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute (SI) from the task force in charge of reviewing the number of deaths related to the storm that hit the island in September.

In a letter addressed to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, ASA President Lisa LaVange expressed disappointment about the government’s idea that the evaluation of the number of victims doesn’t require “participation of independent experts in statistical analysis.”

“Government statistics play a powerful role in any democracy. They empower the economy, serve the health and welfare of its citizens, improve governance, and inform decisions and policies in the public and private sector, among many other vital functions,” the letter reads.

LaVange also questioned the refusal by several local officials–among them, Public Safety Secretary Héctor Pesquera–to explore the findings of various independent studies that indicate there was a rise in the average number of deaths after the storm’s onslaught.

Nearly four months after the storm, the government says the number of hurricane-related deaths totals 64, although several journalistic analyses from such media outlets as CNN, the New York Times and the Puerto Rico Center for Investigative Journalism raise the total number of victims to an alarming 1,000 people.

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“Dismissing the conclusions of reports based on sound statistical analysis is akin to discrediting evidence-based policymaking and more broadly, scientific analysis,” she said, emphasizing that the studies have used reliable statistics tools.

The letter comes at a time when the administration is considering privatizing the institute as part of the government’s reorganization. Economists and legislators questioned the move, arguing that the preparation and monitoring of statistics should be directed by the government and be independent.

In that sense, LaVange deemed it imperative that statistics remain objective, precise and independent. She also reminded everyone that the 2016 Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth report recommended that the SI receive more funds “and continue protecting its independence.”

The ASA president reiterated her organization’s availability to assist the local government in the statistics field. In the letter, dated Jan. 9, she offers to hold a conference to examine the advantages of the use of evidence in the development of government public policy.

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Correction: The original version of this article had a typographical error that incorrectly reflected that economists and legislators believe statistics should not be conducted by the government. It has been corrected to read that they argue statistics should be carried out by the government.

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