IHME and the two words of good journalism

The investigative journalist I.F. Stone once told an assembly of aspiring writers, “I am going to tell you a number of things, but if you really want to be a good journalist you only have to remember two words: governments lie.”

Exaggerate is a more diplomatic way to put it, and that’s how the headlines read regarding a new IHME report that came out in Lancet on Thursday. Here is the local edition, from the Seattle Times:

Report: Nations exaggerated numbers of vaccines in Gates-funded program

The Gates Foundation has invested heavily in a program to boost childhood vaccinations around the world, but a new analysis — also paid for by The Gates Foundation — says the program may have reached only half the number of kids reported.

The vaccine program pays poor nations $20 for every new child immunized, and that financial incentive has apparently led dozens of countries to exaggerate their statistics, says Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The journal version is available free from Lancet, but requires creating an account (or an academic subscription).

I see two research directions for Theory people interested in this work. If you fancy some statistics and signal processing, you can start imagining ways to ask a computer to do more of the work in setting up the “bidirectional distance-dependent regression” used in the paper. And if you’re inspired by algorithmic game theory (or crypto, or both) you can start devising incentive structures which will lead to more kids being vaccinated without encouraging governments to “exaggerate”.

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