Challenges of basing decisions and plans on ‘scientific data’

I would like to highlight some of the problems in using data to support a particular position. Taking an example of my country, Uganda, it is quite possible that data collected on any subject is incomplete and or does not represent the whole country.

It is logical to believe that the best place to find information on how many children are born in a country is hospital records. In Uganda, probably the majority of children born, especially in the rural areas are not born at a hospital and their birth is never recorded by hospitals.

It is also important to note that sometimes the measures used for determining development like Gross Domestic Product, Gross National Product, Human Development Index, for example, may exclude some aspects which impact on people’s livelihoods.

Continuing with the example of Uganda, there are several activities that our people, especially women, are engaged in, like subsistence farming, that are not measured by the standard measures for determining standards of living.

There is also the question of how data is interpreted. In this analysis I have used data to support the slogan: ‘Development is the best contraceptive’, but the same data could be interpreted differently and used to support an alternative position. It could be used, for example, to support the position that the poor are poor because they have many children.

So, while data can be used to support a particular position, one should always have in mind that the there is usually a margin of error in the data and that it could be used to support other views. Data alone, therefore, cannot be used as conclusive evidence.


This analysis is part of a wider analysis that I did debating the question: “Is development the best contraceptive?” The slogan ‘Development is the best contraceptive’ implies that there is a population problem that needs to be solved and the best way to solve it is development. My analysis is based on an analysis by Tom Hewitt and Ines Smyth that is contained in their article titled: “Is the world overpopulated (Hewitt & Smyth, 1992)?” In my analysis published in different blog posts, I discuss four views on population – the New (Neo) Malthusian View, the Social View, the Women at the Centre View and the New Consensus View; and I conclude by demonstrating how each of the four views takes culture seriously or not. I first wrote this analysis and commentary for a tutor marked assignments for the Open University Course Module TUXX871 – Development Context and Practice, a course I passed with merit; as part of my studies for the award of a Master of Science Degree in Development Management of the Open University, United Kingdom. I was triggered by the up-date, below, published in the New Vision to edit and republish my post of 2015 in a more user-friendly manner, hence splitting it up to parts.

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