More weak conflict of interest claims

Andrew Leigh was one of 21 economist signatories to an apparently Nick Gruen-iniatiated open letter (open op-ed?) defending government debt as an appropriate policy response to the GFC. In broad terms, it supports the orthodox pro-debt view being advanced by the government and most though not all commentators.

But when he blogged on the subject, two commenters used conflict of interest arguments in a way they are regularly used in public debate – to cast doubt on the person making the argument rather than directly tackle the argument itself. One alluded to Andrew’s recent but now completed secondment to Treasury to suggest that he was ‘conflicted’. Another suggested that Nick may be ‘less than disinterested’ because he had received consulting fees from the government.

Perhaps the open letter/open ed genre invites this kind of claim. Presumably the point of having 21 economist signatories/authors is to use their general professional standing to give the conclusions more weight than the argument as stated can provide, and so their professional standing is a legitimate target.

But as with many conflict of interest claims, this attack is an appeal to readers’ cynicism rather than providing any substantive reason to doubt the conclusions reached. If the argument is so flimsy it needs past government employment to explain why it is appearing, how come 19 other economists put their names to it? Isn’t it more likely that these 21 economists are among the many economists who support this general line of reasoning, and the precise signatories depend on social and professional networks rather than past financial interests?
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Are 5,000 kids a day injured in serious accidents?

I received my 2009-10 White Pages this week, and on the back there is an ad from the Kids Foundation, a charity aimed at reducing preventable injury to children. The ad says:

On an average day 5,000 kids are injured in serious accidents.

This sounded like a lot, so I went to the Foundation’s website looking for a source. None is to be found, though they offer another statistic saying that this results in 100 hospitalisations.

At the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare website I found statistics on hospitalisations but not all injuries. This suggests the hospitalisations figure is conservative – I calculate for 2004-05 an average of 158 hospital admissions a day for 0-14 year olds for injuries or poisonings (though this includes deliberate as well as accidental injuries and poisonings).

But even with this higher number, how serious could the injuries be if only 3% require hospital treatment?

The ABS reports all injuries whether requiring hospital treatment or not, with a quarter of 0-14 year olds reporting an injury in the previous 4 weeks. That’s around a million a month, which would certainly get us to 5,000 a day. On the other hand, a lot of these injuries are minor such as cuts, falls below one metre, and stings – things that are painful at the time but usually do no lasting or major harm. They are a normal part of growing up, not ‘serious accidents’.

The Kids Foundation sounds like a worthy cause, and certainly the super-protective parenting since I was growing up is paying off in greatly reduced death rates for kids. But when I read shock! horror! numbers with no source I get the feeling I am being subject to spin, and become less inclined to support the organisation involved.

If someone can point me to the source of this number, I will of course happily acknowledge it and remove the ‘factoid’ category from the post.