Johann Hari and statistics

Never the twain shall meet apparently:

He also argues that the safety record in Chinese factories is much preferable to the “‘Elf N Safety” in British factories. We are talking about a system where 600,000 people are worked to death every year

Oh aye?

China says 83,196 people lost their lives in work-related incidents last year.

China’s State Administration of Work Safety reported 380,000 incidents in the workplace that caused death or injury.

How does that stack up compared to the U.S.? To put the situation into perspective, the U.S. has a workforce of 155 million, while China has over five times that amount, at about 801 million.

The U.S. reported 5,071 worker deaths in 2008.

So the rate is something like three or four times worse than the US. Not necessarily desirable in and of itself but yes, we would expect a poorer society to be spending less on superior/luxury goods* like worker safety.

Really not sure where the 600,000 comes from. But it gets better:

and 33,000 fingers are severed every day,

Eh? 12,000,000 fingers a year? Not quite what we hope to have from a digitial economy really. Hari\’s source is himself:

Some 50,000 fingers are sliced off in China\’s factories every month.

There\’s something of a difference between 600,000 a year and 12 million. Even if we grant that it\’s just a typo, an extra zero creeping in, he\’s still managing to misquote himself by arguing that there are 3,330 a day or 1.2 million a year.

This is becoming quite Richard Murphy, isn\’t it?

And how that equates to the figures for 380,000 total incidents I\’m really not quite sure.

Today\’s column is rather fun though. About how things really do go better if we admit our mistakes….you know, what Mother always said. Admit, correct and promise to do better next time?

Since reading Schultz\’s book, I have been trying harder to train myself to think systematically about my own mistakes. Every week, I make a list of what I have got wrong, personally or professionally, and try to figure out how to get it right next time. I can\’t entirely drain the pain from it, but I do think there\’s a hunger out there for this approach:

So, err, Johann:

But a car without a reverse gear would be banned from the roads.

Umm, no actually. There are a number of trikes (legally defined as a car) and motorbike engined kit cars out there which do not have reverse gears (because they\’re using bike gearboxes) and which are road legal.

*These are technical concepts in economics not just me saying that the lives of poor people are a luxury like the Fifth Yorkshireman….things we spend a greater portion of our incomes on as our incomes rise. Yes, worker safety is one of these things, just as health care is.

10 thoughts on “Johann Hari and statistics”

  1. I suspect, but haven’t got the time to find out, that the proportion of the workers in dangerous occupations ie construction, coal mining, ship building etc, is higher in China and than the USA.

    Even with our health and safety regimes these industries suffer with workplace higher death rates than, say, software programming.

  2. The 83,196 (Chinese gov) and 600,000 (Hari, from China Daily) figures are not counting the same thing. The first is for deaths officially recorded as being due to work-related incidents, the second is an estimate of deaths due to overwork. Not a robust statistic by any means, but nor is its use a mistake by Hari.

    As for the fingers, on the other hand…

  3. On a medical website I once remarked that a digital rectal examination was actually analogue. Several commenters failed to see the joke and tried to explain my error. I’ll let you guess their nationality, yes sirree.

  4. @handandmouse
    “Not a robust statistic by any means, but nor is its use a mistake by Hari.”
    Well, if it’s not counting like with like, why is Hari making the comparison? Could he be…an statistical idiot?
    Secondly, I and many like-minded friends would like to know what exactly is being counted in a statistic that’s an “estimate” of deaths “due to overwork”?
    Personally, I would have a lot more faith in any figures Fata Hari threw my way if he hadn’t, in his initial article about all these at-point-of-death iPad i-assemblers, called his fingerless “Unknown Worker” Liu Pan. []

  5. Yes, worker safety is one of these things, just as health care is.

    Indeed. The reason the oil industry is miles safer than mining or construction is because it has the money to make it so.

  6. I picked Hari up on a comment he left on Twitter the other day to the effect that Littlejohn said in his article that people dying in Chinese factories is funny (he didn’t even imply it).

    He declined to reply.

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