Health statistics are at the centre of an increasing number of worldwide health controversies. Several factors are sharpening the tension between the supply and demand for high quality health information, and the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provide a high-profile example. With thousands of indicators recommended but few measured well, the worldwide health community needs to focus its efforts on improving measurement of a small set of priority areas. Priority indicators should be selected on the basis of public-health significance and several dimensions of measurability. Health statistics can be divided into three types: crude, corrected, and predicted. Health statistics are necessary inputs to planning and strategic decision making, programme implementation, monitoring progress towards targets, and assessment of what works and what does not. Crude statistics that are biased have no role in any of these steps; corrected statistics are preferred. For strategic decision making, when corrected statistics are unavailable, predicted statistics can play an important part. For monitoring progress towards agreed targets and assessment of what works and what does not, however, predicted statistics should not be used. Perhaps the most effective method to decrease controversy over health statistics and to encourage better primary data collection and the development of better analytical methods is a strong commitment to provision of an explicit data audit trail. This initiative would make available the primary data, all post-data collection adjustments, models including covariates used for farcasting and forecasting, and necessary documentation to the public.