snarky volunteer gets pwned on Twitter; or why you should learn something before you do something
As usual every morning, today I woke up and checked my Twitter feed. I was particularly interested in an exchange between a person I follow and some NGO tweep I hadn’t come across before. It all started with this:
To make such a claim, it would have to be true that the prevalence rate in Malawi hovered somewhere in the 70% range (or was at least projected to be 70% some time in the not-so-distant future). In actuality, the last population-based estimate of HIV prevalence in Malawi was 12% (source). Certainly, rates are higher in different regions (i.e., in the South, it’s estimated to be as high as 16.5%). In no subsection of the population, however, have I ever seen an estimate anywhere in the range of 70% in Malawi.
When I responded to the NGO tweep (@3LeftHands), he seemed genuinely interested in learning more:
Still, @3LeftHands is skeptical:
Especially, considering the one nurse he talked to in whatever clinic he was in:
Then, the ugly came out. A Malawian abroad, @kumwendafrank (who actually works in the public health field), got annoyed that @3LeftHands couldn’t accept that the Malawian stats weren’t “made up”, calls @3LeftHands ignorant (which, let’s be honest — is fair), asks that he leave the Warm Heart of Africa alone.
Then, @3LeftHands hits where it hurts:
So, a volunteer gets three experienced public health informants that have spent a great deal of time in Malawi trying to point him in the direction of data and truth, and instead tells us we are all wrong because he’s been in the country for less than a month and talked to one nurse.
What’s the lesson learned here? (That is, beyond the one I should have learned that some strangers in the world aren’t worth the energy.) For all of you good-intentioned folks out there who “who want to make Africa a notch better,” I recommend you not make up statistics out of thin air — even if to provoke a response. And, when you’re presented with evidence, consider it. Having a passion to do something meaningful is a gift; cherish and nurture it — and most of all, give it the respect it deserves. What good is a passion for creating positive change in the world if you don’t even know what you’re talking about?
Given the exchange, I’d recommend not making donations to Three Left Hands. Just my free advice.