Posts Tagged ‘statistics’

Economists Camille Landais, Thomas Picketti and Emmanuel Saez do two things. First, they graphically demonstrate how aggregate taxation proves blatantly regressive in France (considering all types of taxes, the top rich pay less than the rest). Second, with student Guillaume Saint-Jacques, they provide everybody (including politicians) with the possibility of simulating alternative fiscal policies. Their website is called “fiscal revolution” — the name is not really an exaggeration, the device is quite a landmark in the politics of economic demonstration.


Attention. Attention. French sociologist of science discovers that America is a statistical invention.

One reputable French union is alerting here the scientific and teaching community about what is happening to public statistics on science and education in France. The government’s mot d’ordre seems to be here “contrôler le chiffre” (“controlling figures”).

So there is this statistics department working for the ministries in charge of education and scientific research, called DEPP (Direction de l’évaluation, de la prospective et de la performance), which is supposed to be responsible for the production and publication of statistics about schools, universities and so forth. But the cabinet of Xavier Darcos, Sarkozy’s minister of national education, is now considering these public statistics as confidential, blocking publication — are concerned in particular surveys from the DEPP that could hinder the minister’s demographic justifications for downsizing the education system.

That’s relieving: a government that cares so much about statistics that it prefers to keep them for itself alone.

Readers interested in the fate of quantified performance can have a look here at the performance targets which accompany the 2009 budget for the French Ministry of Immigration and National Identity (a gem of Sarkozy’s France, already blogged about here). The number of actual deportations (“nombre de mesures de reconduites effectives à la frontière”) should increase to 30,000 for next year. (On the problem of the sinister naming of managerial devices, check out also the meaning of the acronym GESTEL, the database upon which this counting is done here: it looks like it stands for “gestion de l’éloignement” that is, “management of estrangement” or “management of the taking away”.)

Well, national deportation statisticians should actually be thanked. They provided a quite astonishing slogan for the recent donation campaign for the CIMADE (a French organization helping migrants held in detention centers): “behind this figure, lives are shattered!”.

For the record: another person died last week out of Sarkozy’s statistical terror. On Friday April 5, the cops where using (as it is becoming usual) transportation fare control as a device to capture some immigrant at the Joinville-le-Pont RER station, near Paris. Someone jumped into the Marne and died of a heart attack. Here is some media coverage at Libération and Le Monde. There is also a statement by RESF (Réseau Education Sans Frontières) here. And Rue89 reported and attempt from associations at occupying the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales) in order to alert intellectuals.

Again, a classic in Sarkozy’s France (see also a bit of this in Doing Figures):

“Struggling to meet the objective of expelling effectively 25000 foreigners per year, the French administration fosters all kinds of statistical and judicial tinkering. On December 7 2007, the Court of Appeal in Rennes canceled the arrest of a Sudanese in irregular situation. Police had asked him to display identity papers because he crossed the street outside the pedestrian crossing. The Court considered that “the procedure did not correspond to any plausible suspicion of an irregular situation”. The Court also remarked that arrest records similar to this one were written “in exactly the same terms”, which may correspond to a practice of cut and paste.” (from “Sans-papiers: des quotas d’expulsion inaccessibles”, Le Monde, January 4 2008; see also “A Rennes, la justice refuse les contrôles au faciès”, Rue98, December 19 2007)

An idea: tourists, especially British, wishing to contribute to the improvement of French immigration police performance indicators with a lesson on how to well-behave in a target world should be kindly advised to cross the street outside the pedestrian crossing and get arrested before getting into the Eurostar. They might even get their way back refunded if they tell the cops that they actually are from a strange nationality and that they were ready to stay longer (that is probably enough to tick the “done” line in their performance spread sheet).

In a recent decision about the new law on immigration control, integration and asylum in France, the Conseil Constitutionnel (an institution that verifies that laws voted in Parliament are compatible with the French Constitution) rejected the parts in which the law authorized the production and use of official demographic statistics on ethnicity (some related blogging in French here and here). SOS Racisme (a French association whose main goal is to fight racial discrimination), expressed an enthusiastic approval of the decision. This came after an important campaign against “ethnic statistics” in France in general, and more precisely against a survey on “trajectories and origins” that was being prepared jointly by the INSEE (the official French institute for statistical survey) and the INED (the French institute for demographic studies). Many issues were raised indeed about how surveys (especially official ones) on ethnic conditions, national origins or religious beliefs could eventually feed policies marked by the raise of national identity in Sarkozy’s agenda, or could also have performative effects in fostering racial categorization or communitarian identification (this being at odds with some French supposedly republican ideals).

The controversy is complex. A numerous group of researchers observes that this decision hampers scientific inquiry. They accuse SOS Racisme of mistaking grounds for a struggle against racial discrimination (knowing discrimination would be a first step in fighting against it) but also, above all, of mixing science with politics: see their counter-campaign here and here (see also an article in Le Monde here opposing this other one here, both by researchers from the INED). Their arguments in defense of research are most reasonable. But it’s perhaps a pity that they say that “it’s always dangerous when political actors want to have their say in defining what science ought to be”. We all want to know (“we” refers here to researchers, citizens and politicians altogether) and we may all have a word to say about the how. Incidentally (and despite probably gross epistemological and methodological stopgaps, of course), SOS Racisme proposes a generalization of testing as a research tool. Which is interesting indeed — interesting for the sake of scientific experimental knowledge. (For the polity of this sort of experimental science, see for instance Peter A. Riach and Judith Rich “Deceptive Field Experiments of Discrimination: Are They Ethical?”, Kyklos, 57, 2004, pp. 457-470.)

In an interview aired today here at France Culture, the journalist teased Alain Desrosières (statistician and historian of statistics, author of The Politics of Large Numbers) with the one-million-dollars question: “are all figures false?”. His reply was, roughly: “wrong question; the right question is where and how are they produced”.

A follow up on Treasures of Sociology: can the sociology of quantification also benefit from a journey through the gems of national sociology? Jesús Ibáñez’s great paper on “The Measures of Society” is freely available from the website of the Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas. Check that out:

“When we are subjected to the sexuality device, we get payed in pleasure. When we are subjected to the numeral system of currency, we get payed in money. When we are subjected to the nominal system of language, we get payed in prestige. Quantitative sociologists receive considerable money and prestige, but little pleasure. Qualitative sociologists receive considerable pleasure, but little money or prestige.” (from Jesús Ibáñez, “Las medidas de la sociedad”, Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas, 29, 1985, pp. 85-127)

The paper (roughly) is about the emergence of life, then people and then sociologists (quantitative, though) in the universe. But it is useful.

France now has a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. It is in part committed to the task of what is called in France “faire du chiffre”. This means “doing figures”: in other words, attaining a quantitative level that accounts for the performance of governmental and administrative action. Here, the figure under consideration is “number of immigrants in irregular situation taken outside of the national territory”:

“During a visit to Police headquarters in Paris on August 21, Brice Hortefeux, the Minister of Immigration and National Identity, said that “we are slightly below” the 2007 objective of 25,000 people accompanied to the border. “We need to double our efforts and increase the number of people arrested”, added Brice Hortefeux. He said to the new police prefect, Michel Gaudin, that he should “increase significantly the number of arrests”, reminding him that the objective for Paris alone is of 3.680 people in 2007. The Minister said that the recent entry of Romania and Bulgaria into the European Union has “complicated the situation”, because the “distancing” of nationals from these countries represented, before them joining the EU, about 30% of the total amount.” (from “Brice Hortefeux veut multiplier les interpellations de sans-papiers”, Le Monde, August 21 2007)

What is the rationale, if any, of these figures? In a very detailed analysis published some months ago by Mouvements, sociologist Damien de Blic exposes the way in which this practice of quantification (initiated by Nicolas Sarkozy when he was in charge of the Ministry of the Interior), apart from disrupting police work and generating scandalous situations of human distress, is inconsistent within the pure logic of quantitative endeavor:

“As far as “doing figures” is at the heart of the policy undertaken since 2003, it is not useless to have a look at the other figure that dovetails or covers this policy: namely, that of its financial cost. This figure is, by contrast with that of arrests and expulsions, not highlighted by the authors of this policy. Only Dominique de Villepin mentions, as by mistake, the “considerable efforts” needed by this massive operation, and gives an estimate of about 67 million euros for 2005. Anyway, silence is easily understandable when we consider the inordinately huge means mobilized in order to attain the figure that has been defined as an “absolute priority” by the Ministry of the Interior.” (from “Sans-papiers: l’autre “chiffre” de la politique d’expulsion”, Mouvements, March 14 2007)

So, as quantification is supposed to help making things hard and reasonable, the cost of “doing figures” (which include plainly economic costs) is also to be taken into the picture. De Blic’s sociological analysis is, of course, not a praise for economization. But: “à chiffre, chiffre et demi”.