How punitive laws lead to bad HIV data


My article with William Goedel, John Emerson and Brooke Skartvedt Guven was published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society this weekend. Working with data on laws and HIV from 154 countries over seven years (2007-14), we found that criminalization of same-sex sexuality is associated with implausibly low or absent size estimates of men who have sex with men (MSM) reported by countries to UNAIDS.

Low size estimates may contribute to official denial that MSM exist; to failure to adequately address their needs; and to inflated HIV service coverage reports that paint a false picture of success.

We didn’t use this term in the article, but in my head I’ve been calling this “quantitative deconstruction” — using numbers to peal back the facade of other numbers, revealing the politics that drive what countries report to the UN.

On a personal note, this was a totally unfunded labor of love for the past year and a half, produced and inspired by the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at New York University (NYU), where I’ve been a visiting fellow for the past two years. They’ve had an ongoing project at NYU on indicators in global governance, and I had the luxury while there of bouncing ideas off Meg Satterthwaite, Sally Merry, and others who have led that work. John Emerson, an activist, graphic designer, and writer who was also a visiting fellow at CHRGJ working with Meg on data visualization, did the elegant charts (John and I also overlapped at Human Rights Watch a few centuries ago).  Brooke Guven was a law student at NYU who did some of the initial compiling of data for the project, and now works as a researcher on sustainable development at Columbia University.

William C. Goedel brought the math to this paper, and patiently explained statistical terms to me at least twice as many times as I had to explain human rights law to him. Whenever I posed a hypothetical scenario, William input the data and ran the numbers in the blink of an eye. William is, no kidding, a junior undergrad at NYU’s College of Global Public Health, and he’s already managing the program at their Spatial Epidemiology Lab. Someone to watch…


1 thought on “How punitive laws lead to bad HIV data

  1. Pingback: Meg Davis, Ph.D.

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