Accepted paper:

Health Statistics Recast As Policies


Lene Teglhus Kauffmann (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

Health profiles as a form of epidemiological knowledge is seen as 'evidence' in 'evidence-based policy. This recasts them as 'policies' and eliminates the gap between research and policymaking. However, the most pervasive influence of the statistics is not only numbers but also categories.

Paper long abstract:

Statistics can be understood in two ways: one that focuses on the numbers as representations of a reality that was there before the statistics measured it, and another that approaches the statistics as social constructions. The idea of 'evidence-based policy' takes the former as a starting point, while the latter allows us to see the health profiles as elements in the construction of the stat, in the perspective of global/local, and as categories that construct individuals in relation to health measurements. I will discuss a specific form of health statistics, the 'health profiles', as a form of epidemiological knowledge, but also as the 'global' localised, turning comparison into a key concept in policymaking in the neo-liberal knowledge society. I will demonstrate how numbers and categories that should create order and simplify complexity are not neutral, even if they seem natural. Thus, I will argue that even if the health profiles in a historical perspective are just another example of epidemiological knowledge that has influenced policymaking for centuries, an ideology of comparison and individualism has found its way into the construction of the state, together with an increased focus on efficiency and 'what works'. The status of the health profile as 'evidence' seems unquestionable, and their role in policymaking is characterised by an entanglement that does not allow room for a debate on their trustworthiness.

panel P03
Anthropology of health indicators and statistics