There’s a specific moment in OVV’s strange, rambling, defensive reply to Dorothy Kronick’s criticism when they give the game away. A moment when the organization’s essential lack of seriousness is exposed plainly for the world to see.

I don’t mean when they stash away their acknowledgment that their flagship product, the Violent Death Rate estimate for 2015, is badly flawed in the nineteenth paragraph of their response, snuck away after a tsunami of throat-clearing and couched in language so obtuse you virtually need a forensic team to unearth it.

I also don’t mean the moment when they present an adjusted estimate (81 per 100,000, vs. their original 90 and our 69) that is still too high because the correction is based on assumptions that OVV’s own data clearly show do not hold.

It isn’t when they acknowledge that the weights on their central forecasting equation are derived a pepa de ojo, arbitrarily on the basis of “a simplified Delphi method using expert judgments”, that looks to all the world like “nos reunimos con unos panas y bueno le pusimos unos pesos más o menos ahí a la ecuación.”

It isn’t when they present a new Violent Death rate estimate without ever forthrightly acknowledging their original 2013 data screw-up, or apologizing to the people they’ve misled, or explaining how exactly they could make a mistake that basic, or explicitly retracting the previous estimate, or in any way giving any indication that they grasp how badly they screwed up, how comprehensively they’ve been called out on it, or showing a modicum of remorse about it.

It isn’t when they get hung up on whether getting your central estimate wrong by 29% constitutes being “very” wrong, or when they bristle at being told they made a ‘mistake’ and go on to suggest that somehow building their flagship analytical figure —the Violent Death Rate estimate— entirely on the basis of a dato from a source even they don’t trust, a source who didn’t entirely understand the number he was giving them, or its provenance, or how it had been put together, or by whom doesn’t quite rise to the level of ‘mistake’.

I’m not talking about bizarre ad hominem non sequitur in the third-to-last paragraph where they take a stroll down the novel epistemological avenue of suggesting that somehow Venezuela’s violent death rate is different when seen from the streets of Philadelphia than from the streets of Cumaná or Barquisimeto.

I’m not even talking about the moment when, in the same piece when they are quietly retracting an estimate that now even they admit was wrong, they go on nevertheless to assert that “el OVV ha demostrado transparencia y rigurosidad en sus métodos de trabajo e investigación,” somehow failing to process the basic reality that no, what this entire episode demonstrates is a catastrophic, ongoing lack of rigour that completely undermines their credibility.

No, all of those are bad, but the moment when OVV forfeits any realistic claim on academic rigour lies elsewhere.

That moment comes in the second-to-last paragraph of their response to Kronick, when they toss out this perlita:

We believe that Kronick’s post, rather than helping understand the growing deadly violence that’s overwhelming the country, centers attention on the number for the sake of the number, and diverts attention over what is essentially important, because whether it’s 20,000 or 25,000 violent deaths, they are nonetheless too many, especially after the more than 20 security plans the government has rolled out to try to solve the law and order problem in the last 17 years.

Creemos que la publicación de Kronick, en lugar de ayudar en la comprensión de la creciente violencia mortal que agobia al país, centra la atención en el número por el número,  y aleja el acento sobre lo esencialmente importante, pues que sean 20.000 o 25.000 las muertes violentas, son siempre demasiadas muertes, sobre todo después de los más de 20 planes de seguridad con que el gobierno ha tratado de resolver el problema de la inseguridad en los últimos 17 años.

20,000? 25,000? Who cares!? What’s 5,000 corpses between friends? Lo esencial es tirarle coñazos al gobierno, mi pana.

That passage is a white flag masquerading as an argument. In the span of a single paragraph, OVV’s pretense that they are a research organization in the first place goes up in smoke. The real point, they’re quite happy to tell us explicitly, is that the government is awful.

OK, then!

But then why be shy? Why just 27,875 violent deaths? Why not go for Guiness? Why not do a real service to those violence-struck Venezuelans and announce 50,000 deaths? Or 359,738? After all, the actual number doesn’t matter, right?

Yo francamente no puedo con el tirapiedrismo de estos carajos, and I’m not minded to be polite about it. Venezuela’s public sphere is degraded enough as it is by 17 years of official discourse that’s entirely dismissive of objective reality. It’s this attitude where the details don’t matter because reality is just a kind of plastilina you mold to your political agenda. It’s intolerable coming from an organization that claims for itself the mantle of academic rigour.

I’m fighting for a Venezuela where we take reality seriously, where rigour isn’t just an empty word you throw around while embodying its opposite.

That OVV can’t grasp that having been called out on a mountain of bullshit its best bet is to cut its losses, level with its audience, and clean up its own damn mess forthrightly speaks plainly to the way chavista discursive standards have insinuated themselves into the psyche of people who imagine themselves to be opposing them.

Revísense, coño. Es grave.

28 COMMENTS

  1. “20,000? 25,000? Who cares!? What’s 5,000 corpses between friends? Lo esencial es tirarle coñazos al gobierno, mi pana.”
    Lo mismo pensé cuando leí esa vaina, esa fué la gota que derramó el vaso. Increible el descaro y que no se den cuenta que estan siendo parciales.

  2. I think this is important work and the record must be corrected. But I also think it’s important to stress the common ground between them. I fear people will take advantage of this (and the fault will be with the organization that made the false claims) to dismiss concerns about violence. I can just hear Weisbrot or other PSF’s saying in response to the violence, “but didn’t you hear, even that hotbed of right wingers at Caracas Chronicles admits that the violence has been exaggerated.” Keep up the good work, but prepare for it to be used out of context.

  3. Unless there is something else hidden or not yet known in this exchange between CC and OVV I find Quico’s piece very aggressive, almost hysterical. He quotes OVV:
    “We believe that Kronick’s post, rather than helping understand the growing deadly violence that’s overwhelming the country, centers attention on the number for the sake of the number, and diverts attention over what is essentially important, because whether it’s 20,000 or 25,000 violent deaths, they are nonetheless too many, especially after the more than 20 security plans the government has rolled out to try to solve the law and order problem in the last 17 years”.
    And to this he replies: ” 20,000? 25,000? Who cares!? What’s 5,000 corpses between friends? Lo esencial es tirarle coñazos al gobierno, mi pana”.
    I, for one, did not read this meaning into OVV’s paragraph. I read that they say that 20,000 or 25,000 are too many deaths, as, effectively, they are.
    I find Kronick’s article very much to the point and OVV’s response defensive, yes, but ready to rectify and certainly not cynical, as Quico suggests.
    The outburst by Quico, carajeando a la gente de OVV, did not sound well, Does he knows something we do not?
    Gustavo

    • This debate is about number and it’s accuracy, and in that specific paragraph I think OVV conveyed that the numbers is not a very important thing, and I truly believe that’s wrong, and coming from and organization like OVV?, that’s REALLY WRONG.

    • Gustavo, 20,000 or 25,000 deaths are both too many homicides per year, we agree. But if their Mission Statement says: “Gather and generate quality data and information about interpersonal violence in Venezuela”, then a 25% difference is actually way out of the question. 🙂

  4. Saludos. Quisiera aclarar primero que estoy de acuerdo con la crítica, sin embargo me gustaría copiar un comentario que escribí en Facebook sobre el artículo (me da flojera redactar todo de nuevo):

    TL,DR: el problemo no es el método que usen, porque la opacidad del gobierno hace dificil la tarea y eso está claro, el problema es su actitud al exigírsele contrastación, que en cualquier caso es el punto principal del artículo de todas maneras.

    “Es grave de hecho, pero me hace ruido la crítica de Toro cuando, sarcásticamente, hace la acotación ““nos reunimos con unos panas y bueno le pusimos unos pesos más o menos ahí a la ecuación.” porque eso es más o menos lo que hace todo el tiempo, bien sea que conseguiste los pesos a “pepa de ojo” o por algún tipo de estimación. Está de parte de la OVV comprobar que dichos pesos, entendidos como hipótesis al principio, deben ser comprobados y contrastados de distintas formas.”

    Posteriormente escribí:

    “Pero es que no importa si es Delphi o una regresión o una redes neuronales, al final asignas pesos a una expresión polinomial que te permite hacer previsiones.

    No sé cuál sea la crítica en particular de esta persona (de quien sé por primera vez), no pretendo disminuirla, seguro las fundamenta bien (tampoco es mi área, tendría que ponerme en contexto), mi punto es que si tú alimentas el Delphi, la regresión o la red neuronal con los datos que no son, incluso si lo que hiciste fue interpretarlos mal, no que nominalmente estén errados, tus resultados serán malos, para eso no importa el contexto. Por eso en un principio tu modelo es considerado una hipótesis que debe ser comprobada, y creo que el fallo de la OVV es allí: no parece haber voluntad para retroalimentar su estrategia y su justificación para ello merece la crítica del artículo.

    En casos de gobiernos opacos, como el venezolano, es complicado comenzar con algún método que no sea “a pepa de ojo”. Eso, en sí mismo, no es problema. Me parece que Toro sí lo hace parte del problema y no es así. Del resto, creo que el artículo, con toda la rabia que destila está “on point” en el problema general de la sociedad y el uso de estadísticas.”

  5. I kind of liked the reply from Prof Kronick but this piece of Mr. Toro is out of focus, seems to be seeking some sort of retribution and ultimately the whole enchilada does not make me feel any better or worse about the Venezuelan situation.

    In the best case, let’s say “yeeee bravo Quico you were right!” or “yeee bravo Caracas Chronicles for letting everyone vent conformism (or lack of)” or “yeee bravo OVV for paying attention to academic righteousness by replying to the other death counters methodology” …

    I think this whole CC vs. OVV is a gran Cantiflada not worth of more of what has been written and/or discussed. (my opinion of course – yeeee)

  6. This article (and situation in general) reminds me a little bit of the time Jon Stewart went to CNN’s Crossfire, and demanded their responsibility to the American people.

    Sure, there may have a lot of Quico’s flair on this post, but in the end, he is demanding responsibility from a body that isn’t and cannot allow itself to be biased toward any kind of partisanship.

    If they end up steering the ship in the right direction, then the arguably exagerated, 3rd-degree burn this post is was pretty much worth it.

  7. Quico, I agree with your post mainly because I agree with the premise that they screwed up and instead of bowing and fixing it… They apply a chavista retort which just makes them look even worse.

    Thanks you for your post. In the end CC is, despite the rigours and all the new contributions, a blog. You only answer to yourself and your readers. Whereas the OVV is accountable to Venezuela, and the world that used their numbers.

    The reality is that they sold the number as a bullet proof estimate based on whatever they could get their hands on. Yes, it’s from whatever they could get their hands on… But they sold it as bullet proof without doing the due diligence.

    Kudos to you Quico

  8. If you are going to claim the governments lies about the rates, you better be sure your numbers are right. If not, you are as liar as they are.
    The same shit happened a few years back with Globovision and Patricia Poleo, they manipulated and exaggerated situations to generate chaos. How many times I got labeled as chavista disfrazado because I called the BS from their accusation. I think these types of people create more harm than good to the opposition.
    If you want to go after chavismo, you have to be better than them. If not, you are the same peace of shit with a morcilla custome.
    As opposition, we don’t have any credibility due to situations like this. Credibility is the only thing could open chavistas heads when you show them the reality
    We just don’t want to learn from our mistakes.

  9. Next time I get a revise and resubmit from a journal, I’ll certainly not try OVV’s approach. Oh. My. God. That reply is a thing of beauty!

  10. Thing is, I *saw* Dorothy give them chance after chance after chance to retract-and-correct honestly and elegantly, on their terms.

    Dorothy never set out to embarrass them. Just the opposite.

    She bent over backwards to help them clean up their 2013 mess forthrightly.

    And *this* is the best they can do in response? En serio!?

  11. I have to agree with Quico here. There is a time for moralizing. But all the moralizing in the world is not going to justify bad math, or give us confidence that the math skills will improve.

  12. The people from OVV are trying to save face but do not realize they are destroying their credibility by not coming clean and admitting they made a gruesome mistake with their estimate (several really).

    Now they have shown they are partial against the government, not for the truth.

  13. I almost never agree with Quico. Sorry, Quico.

    But this time I am with him 100%. See, I’ve lost many irreplaceable hours I would have spent with loved ones partly because of OVV’s numbres. I stopped going out after sunset partly because the OVV. My 7 YO kid never goes to the beach as he dreams of, partly because the OVV. I live in constant fear- about 30% thanks to the OVV.

    The homicide rate has taken life away from us. I used to think Chavez and Maduro took maybe 10 years from my lifetime. Now I know that about three of those years were taken by the OVV instead.

  14. I never trusted any of those fucking third rate political parties mascarading as human rights groups in Venezuela.

    Remember Súmate?

    • Because I consider ED to be intelligent, and for whatever it’s worth, let me explain myself.

      My problem with HR groups is essencialy the same as one may have with disaster relief groups such as in Haiti: essencially no institutional discipline and very easy narratives which always claim to not be political. So they claim to be about their stated objectives but, their stated objectives being very fuzzy ideology, and being actual functioning institutions, we know they are about much more cold blooded things. These things we know as politics.

      With politicians, there is a sort of don’t ask (too much) don’t tell (too much) understanding of what politics REALLY is. But with these NROs, they actually claim to be above it. Don’t trust ’em, never have.

  15. Y lo ves en este statement: “las cifras estimadas por el OVV son tan válidas como las de D. Kronick”. Increíble de pana.
    Congratulations for this amazing work CCs and Dorothy.

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