Friday, October 30, 2009

The price of credibility

I recently read this posting. Daniel Roodman of the Center for Global Development, after reading this posting on Easterly's Aid Watch, made the point that, if one wishes to credibility engage in genuine debate, one needs to be as critical in examining the arguments of one's supporters as of one's critics. Roodman went on to state that he thought Easterly had failed to do this in the case of one of his supporters, Dambisa Moyo.

I think this is a very good, though admittedly difficult, standard to hold people to.

Yet when I asked Mr. Roodman to apply it to his own post things got difficult. Easterly's post, which served as the inspiration for Roodman's, stated that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was knowingly using dubious statistics about Malaria prevalence in Africa to argue that malaria-fighting foreign aid initiatives had been very successful, when in fact the reality, according to Easterly, is much more complicated, and ultimately less rosy than the Gateses make it out to be.
As Roodman's Center for Global Development receives substantial funding from the Gates Foundation, I asked him. in the spirit of his own posting, to weigh in on the issue, i.e. did he think the Gateses were being responsible in their use of the Malaria statistics in question?

Sadly, he deferred, claiming ignorance of the Malaria issue and refusing to educate himself so that he might offer an informed opinion.

To what can we attribute this odd behavior? After formulating a very good principle "about what constitutes credible reasoning in the grand debates" and then applying it to Mr. Easterly, he fails utterly to follow it himself.

Finally and most ironically, Mr. Roodman may himself provide the answer to this question when he states in the same posting:

"Lets be frank: many think twice before criticizing the Gates Foundation because it is so big and funds so many organizations."


What a sad truth.


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