Monday, March 26, 2007

Perils of Statistics in India: A tale of Rhino Park in Hooghly district

This story was narrated by a journalist friend , who recently came to Calcutta on his way to Nandigram (in Hooghly district): the place where forced land acquisition has made an embarrassing issue for the ruling party.

This is the funniest story I have heard about Statistics, and though as a student of statistics I am quite proud of the subject , I am forced to remember the saying " Lies , damn lies and statistics …….."

The story goes like this. A forest officer posted in Hooghly district of West Bengal got a communication from his superiors from the state capital to make a proposal for a National Park for Rhinos in Hooghly. The letter quoted a well known national report on wildlife where the district was noted to have a population of about 12 Rhinos. This forest officer, a local fellow was bit surprised by the figures as he had never seen or heard of a rhino is nearby region. He asked for the copy of the report as yes, his district was listed there for having a population of 12 rhinos. Curious by these strange statistics, he confirmed from his local sources but nobody had ever heard of a rhino in the nearby area. He reported this back and an investigation was carried out as to how a reputed survey is giving such nonsensical statistics. And guess what it was!!

Well, we Indians are known for our love of English: correct or incorrect, every educated person feels that English is the medium to impress the world. These statistics are usually collected by a questionnaire which is forwarded to each panchayat and it is a lowly village panchayat functionary who will be filling it up. So a rather educated Bengali Bhadralok sincerely filled up one such questionnaire about livestock in the village and mentioned Ducks, goose and Gander (male goose) separately. Another educated babu at the state HQ while compiling the data from various villages saw that only one panchayat has sent number of Ganders . Not aware with this English word, he decided that this must be number of Gondar( Rhinos in Bangla) and cursing the spelling mistake and lack of knowledge in the Panchayat fellow about the English word for gondar " corrected" the entry. Thus 12 rhinos in Hooghly district were born!! Needless to say, no one cross checked the data and the data got printed in the national report . While going through the data, the high officials in Forest departments decided to have a National Park for Rhinos, without doubting the data for a second.
So, here is the message for all of you, who rely on data from reputed sources blindly. Do not put your faith in what statistics say until you have carefully considered what they do not say. Never lose your common sense while going through a Statistician's report or else we will have many more Rhino parks in this country.

1 comment:

YOJNA said...

the travelogue to bhutan has me thirsting for more . yr diary has stirred my soul and the unblemished innocence of the land and the people makes me hope that one day i get the opportunity to visit this mystic land