The Art of Public Policy Statisticians: The Puerto Rico Pension Reform Report

Luis A. Avilés


This article makes a contribution to the scant dialogue between the discipline of rhetoric and the discipline of statistics, in the context of policy analysis in Puerto Rico. Through the analysis of a government of Puerto Rico document, The Numbers Speak for Themselves: We Must Reform Our Retirement Systems Now, this article identifies a statistical rhetoric that: (1) reduces the assessment of the multiple objectives of a public policy to a few numbers (metonymy); (2) reiterates objectivity, through the assertion that “numbers speak for themselves” (prosopopoeia); (3) does not acknowledge subjective methodological choices that exaggerate the effect under evaluation; and, (4) appeals to emotions through a forecast of a statistically designed impending calamity. The Pension Reform Report responds to a political economy of economic and fiscal crisis that promotes austerity measures. The public policy statisticians who drafted the Puerto Rico Pension Report were skillful in the art of producing a statistical rhetoric that appeals to a lay general public, presenting themselves as disinterested scientists that interpreted the data. Nevertheless, a rhetorical analysis can identify the shortcomings, biases, and the misleading strategies of the report, that build quantitative arguments to justify a pension reform policy.


pension reform, rhetoric of statistics, realist rhetoric, impending calamity, political economy

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