Three Hypotheses About Demographic Reporting In Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Russia’s demographic revival stalled in 2010, after several years of fast improvements. In January-September, though the birth rate increased by 16,700 souls on the same period last year, it was counterbalanced by an increase in deaths by 37,200 – all of them and more courtesy of the 44,000 excess deaths caused by the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010. A big drop in migration during this period, from 191,500 to 123,100, means that Russia’s population is likely to gently decline this year (in contrast to 2009, when it rose slightly for the first time in 15 years). Nonetheless, the liberal Russian media are as good as ever at spinning these modest developments into harbingers of the apocalypse, as the indefatigable S/O guest blogger Sergey Slobodyan points out.

Three Hypotheses About Demographic Reporting In Nezavisimaya Gazeta

I continue tracking demographic reporting in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG). Why NG? I used to like it, many years ago. It still produces serious, thoughtful articles from time to time. In short, it’s a paper I’d like to read – if it were reliable. Regretfully, its reporting on some issues – like demography – is just a total disaster.

Last example: “Rosstat has poured cold water on Minzdrav’s optimism.” Here we learn that mortality in Sep 2010 was 0.3% lower than in Sep 2009, and as usual, deaths from external reasons have dropped by 4.6%. But we also learned that in Jan-Sep 2010, the mortality situation is nothing but a disaster, namely “mortality in 9 months of 2010 is higher than during the whole of 2009”.

This text, together with the article title, strongly suggest that 9 months of 2010 saw more deaths than the whole 2009. And the table with data seems to bear this suggestion out: mortality in 2009 was 1416,8 per 100,000, while three quarters of 2010 saw 1456,2 per 100,000 mortality rate. The numbers given, incidentally, coincide with Rosstat’s figures.

Something is fishy, right? Yes, of course. The mortality rates for incomplete years are presented as annualized figures in Rosstat’s data releases. Annualized mortality rate in 2010 was below the corresponding 2009 numbers until the summer heat wave’s strike. It might get about even yet, though – remember 2009 cold winter which resulted in many extra deaths of its own? 9 months of 2010 did see more deaths than 9 months of 2009, but just about 3/4 of the total 2009 number, despite NG’s insinuations to the contrary.

So, what do we see? An incredible misuse of a simple number, a flashy title, and a feeling of a doom which isn’t happening in reality. Why did we see it? I have three hypotheses:

1. Ada Gorbacheva (article’s author) is a panicky doomsayer who picks the worst possible (and often downward incorrect) angle while producing lines for the paper. From her articles we could learn about an epidemic of syphilisin Russia, that 2010 summer heat wave’s death toll was officially recognized for the first time in mid October, that Russia is threatened by bubonic plague, and many other exciting things. After reading several of her articles, I can only recall Andrea Scarface from Almodovar’s “Kika”, producer and hostess of a nightly tabloid show “Today’s Worst”. But surely NG is not a tabloid?

2. NG is running a long project intended to understand whether their readers are a) smart, and b) are paying attention. Reminds me of a classroom tactics when a teacher would intentionally make an error in order to make students follow her more attentively. If so, the readers didn’t exactly distinguish themselves so far.

3. It’s not just Ada Gorbacheva. Other NG reporters are using dubious, obsolete, or just invented statistics to talk about Russian demography. Perhaps, they are paid to do exactly what they are doing. And, perhaps, an entity which controls editorial policy doesn’t have much time for reading the texts – just scanning the headlines is
enough. A journalist would then write an absolute garbage in the text and have good laughs at parties. Like that story of the very first Simpsons episode being produced to demonstrate stupidity of the boss who could approve such an abomination. Pity that joke has backfired so spectacularly.

No matter which hypothesis is right, NG isn’t doing any favors to Russian liberal media. How could I believe anything in that paper after reading such garbage which should have been checked in about a minute?


  1. Radhika Braun says:

    Perhaps Russia won’t need 20 “megacities” after all; a bakers dozen might do it.

  2. I would imagine that many of the heatwave-related deaths were of older people beyond the age of reproduction. That seems to be the general rule with respect to heatwaves. As a result, the excess deaths will not translate into fewer births in future years.

  3. The inanity of liberasts knows no bounds. Is Medvedev supposed force Russians to fornicate more? They can hardly use the “it’s so bad in Russia that even children aren’t being born” line since the birth rate in their world hell holes in enormous.

  4. As you say, the excess deaths can be attributed to the heat wave. Assuming _arguendo_ this is a one-off and not the precursor of environmental and public health disasters to come, it won’t have much long-term demographic effect.

    The migration thing is more significant. You and I have discussed this before, yes? If Russia’s going to stave off serious demographic trouble, it will need immigration and lots of it. That figure of ~120,000 Jan-Sept annualizes to about 160,000. That’s a drop of about 1/3 from the annual rates of 2007-2009.

    A year or so back, you generated a long-term model for Russian population growth. The “medium” version of that model required 300,000 immigrants per year. It is of course premature to say whether this year marks a long-term trend. But if it does, then projections will have to be revised accordingly.

    Doug M.