On statistics and democracy, or why exposing a fraud may mean nothing

“stat” in the word “statistics” means “state”, as in “government/sovereignty”. Statistics was born as a state effort to use data to rule a country. Even today, every country I know has its own statistics authority. For many years, many governments, have been hiding the true statistics from the public, under the assumption that knowledge means power. I was reminded of this after reading Charles Earl’s (my teammate) post “Mathematicians, rock the vote!“, in which he encourages mathematicians to fight gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a dubious practice in the American voting system, where a regulatory body forms voting districts in such a way that the party that appointed that body has the highest chance to win. Citing Charles:

It is really heartening that discrete geometry and other branches of advanced mathematics can be used to preserve democracy

I can’t share Charles’s optimism. In the past, statistics have been successfully used for several times to expose election frauds in Russia (see, for example, these two links, but there are much much more [one] [two]). People went to the streets, waving posters such as “We don’t believe Churov [a Russian politician], we believe Gauss.”

Demonstration in Russia. Poster: "We don't believe Churov. We believe Gauss"
“We don’t believe Churov. We believe Gauss”. Taken from Anatoly Karlin’s site http://akarlin.com/2011/12/measuring-churovs-beard/

Why, then, am I not optimistic? After all, even the great Terminator, one of my favorite Americans, Arnold Schwarzenegger fights gerrymandering.


The problem is not that the American’s don’t know how to eliminate Gerrymandering. The information is there, the solution is known [ref, as an example]. In theory, it is a very easy problem. In practice, however,  power, even more than drugs and sex, is addictive. People don’t tend to give up their power easily. What happened in Russia, after an election fraud was exposed using statistics? Another election fraud. And then yet another. What will happen in the US? I’m afraid that nothing will change there either.


One thought on “On statistics and democracy, or why exposing a fraud may mean nothing

  1. I love that picture! Better to believe Gauss (or Euclid). Yes, the path to voting rights is to paraphrase paved with the blood and bones of many forgotten idealists and plain old ordinary folk. Efforts in the US and South Africa were more often than not failures, interspersed with dramatic and world-inspiring success. I have to believe that eventually Borel wins.

    Liked by 1 person

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