OVV, You Had One Job

We dive deep into the Observatorio Venezolano de Violencia's bizarre, muddled answer to Dorothy Kronick’s criticisms and come to a troubling epiphany: OVV isn’t really an academic research organization at all.

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.