Why do so many people in the West—who should probably know better by now—trust the data of authoritarian governments conducting an information war?
The latest controversy surrounds the state of the Russian economy and what Western media and others have been reporting to their audiences. Read anything about the war in Ukraine these days, and you’ll probably find a mention that the Russian economy contracted by about 2 percent in 2022—a low decline that suggests little more than a mild recession. That number has entered the policy debate: For some, the low figure is proof that the Russian economy is resilient and sanctions do not work. Others use the same figure to argue that sanctions are starting to bite and Western countries should double down. These opposing arguments have one thing in common: They rely on a largely meaningless number.