The mere mention of statistics might bring back nightmares from a class at university. But it is these dry facts and figures that shape health care policy, influence how children will be educated, and inform the choices that determine the country's future and our own. Public policy is an imperfect science as it is; without statistics, it is blind. As we report today, the Dubai Statistics Centre has measured everything from changes in divorce rates to vehicle ownership and made them available to the public. Since statistics that chart change in the UAE are so often difficult to find, a public release of data is an accomplishment in itself.
However, all statistics are but snapshots of a point in time and subject to their own limitations; these are no different. In particular, the projection released by the Dubai Statistics Centre that Dubai's population has grown by 7.3 per cent in the past year is as much of an educated guess as a statistic. The centre analysed trends from 2000 to 2005 and international models to estimate the current population. There are significant problems to this approach. Last year was unlike any other in history and not only in Dubai. The global credit crunch and downturn combined to create a "Black Swan", a high-impact, rare event that is difficult to plan for or understand, as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, one of the few experts who predicted the crisis. The economic downturn demonstrated how many of the assumptions that are supposed to account for how people and markets behave are woefully incomplete.
However, by drawing upon public records, the Dubai Centre for Statistics has uncovered some significant trends. There has been a considerable increase in the number of doctors in public hospitals, which affects public health planning; the property sector should be concerned with the fewer number of buildings completed; the fall in hotel occupancy, along with an increase in air traffic volume, should help authorities get a handle on the complexities of the tourism industry.
As much as these statistics reveal, they also show how much remains unknown. There is little doubt that a lack of information since the competition of a census in 2005 has held back progress in some areas. The results of the 2010 census, due at the end of this year, will provide a wealth of data. But each new statistic adds just one piece to the picture. It is up to policy makers and individuals to interpret the mosaic they create.