How my friend Esther became a statistic
Recent events have been testing my faith in the dismal science, rocking all the pillars of economics I have come to rely on.
Berkin Elvan’s death showed me that, despite economists’ claims, a child’s life cannot be assigned a monetary value. I was putting the finishing touches on my never-ending study to determine provincial factors explaining women’s murders when I learned that Esther Giovanna Parker, my friend and editor of my columns for two years, had been stabbed to death by her husband Saturday night in the resort town of Bodrum, Muğla.
The econometric analysis does not yield many surprises. Women’s murders (per thousand people) are higher in more populous provinces. Poor provinces with low education also tend to have more women’s homicides. I could not find any meaningful relationship with the number of mosques in a province and women’s murders – or the share of votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) for that matter.
A similar statistical analysis would give very low probability to an educated American woman being murdered by her husband in Muğla, where I am writing this column as well – just 35 miles away from my friend, who is lying in a forensic medicine morgue in the provincial center. After all, the province has lower than average women’s murders in the first place – even more so after inter-province characteristics are accounted for.
Econometricians would say that the number of women’s murders in Muğla has a large negative error-term, meaning that the province has fewer women’s murders than their econometric model would predict. But to me, there is much more to that number than a simple epsilon, the Greek letter the error-term is denoted with. The epsilon stands for a lost friend. It signifies a 16-month baby who will not remember his mother.
So maybe I should give up on statistics and focus on behavioral economics: One of the many well-known biases of supposedly rational individuals is that they think they won’t be affected by misfortunes. I used to read about women’s murders in newspapers. I wouldn’t read the names of the victims, or forget them after a few seconds if I did. I never thought I’d have to write a eulogy for one.
Before switching to journalism, and making my columns readable in addition to her editing work at the Oxford Business Group (OBG), a publisher and consultancy producing annual investment and economic reports, Esther was an economist at economic consultancy NERA for more than a decade. At OBG, she contributed to country reports as well.
I’ll let her friends, who have formed a webpage for her and her son, describe her: Feisty, ebullient, generous. Whip-smart but humble. Perceptive and insightful. Kind and loyal. Always smiling, with a great laugh. Full of and exhibiting a zest for life. Serene and peaceful. Spirited, with a big and mischievous smile.
I have been telling you to #RememberBerkin for a while. I want to ask you now to always #RememberEsther as well – in the name of all the murdered women of Turkey.