India Uncut

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

Don't judge a city by media reports

Despite this, this, this, this and this, Gaurav Sabnis says that Mumbai is still a much safer city for women than many others. I agree. These incidents are high-profile, but one should not read too much into them.

This reminds me of my childhood in Chandigarh, where I grew up during the years when militancy in Punjab was at its worst. People from elsewhere would read regularly about incidents in the city, and presume that it must be a terrible place to live in. But for those actually living there, it seemed utterly normal and peaceful.

A city is defined by its commonplace, but what interests the media is the uncommon. Normalcy does not make for good copy. So never judge a place by media reports.

This topic came up when my friend, Michael Higgins, who writes the fascinating blog Chocolate and Gold Coins, wrote a post where he made assumptions about India based on this case. He quickly retracted, and wrote:
The press only writes about buildings that burn, as the saying goes. A westerner could get the wrong impression about India. Fair enough. An Indian might read the Washington Post and conclude that high school students shooting up their classmates is common in the U.S., when we know it is rare.

On the other hand, it is fair to say that the U.S. has a problem with high school students shooting their classmates and India has at least one judge with astoundingly poor judgement. Economists have a saying: "The plural of anecdote is data."

Fair enough. So just like that old cliche of a picture painting a thousand words, it is not entirely wrong to say that statistics contain a thousand anecdotes. Or more, depending on the sample size. (Ah, and if you have lots of time, do read this post, and the subsequent comments, about anecdotes, data and suchlike.)
amit varma, 9:19 PM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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