Thursday, May 30, 2013

The (ongoing) War on Data

I know we've been through this before, but from the New York Times (via ataxingmatter):
One bill, introduced in the House by Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, would effectively end all surveys by the bureau, except for the decennial census, and even that would be limited to counting noses — a silly interpretation of the census’s mandate. Banning the surveys would make it impossible to compile reliable data on employment, productivity, health, housing, poverty, crime and the environment, to name a few of the affected fields.

This bill would be too wacky to worry about, but its lunacy makes the other know-nothing bill look moderate. That bill, introduced in the House by Ted Poe of Texas and in the Senate by Rand Paul of Kentucky, targets the American Community Survey. Started in 2005 to replace the long-form census, the survey is the indispensable source of information on factors that define American life, including family configurations, education levels, work and living arrangements, income and insurance coverage. Credible information is the basis for a responsive government, an efficient economy and, by extension, a functional society. It also gives American policy makers and businesses a competitive edge, because it encourages decisions based on hard data as opposed to guesses or other faulty rationales that dominate in the absence of credible data.

About three million people receive the survey every year, and, as with the census, answering it is required by law. Mr. Poe and Mr. Rand want to make it voluntary, which would make the results less reliable, and potentially worthless, because fewer people would answer and those who did would not be a representative sample.

Canada recently replaced its mandatory long-form census with a voluntary survey — and now lives with the sorry results. To try to get an adequate level of response, the voluntary survey was sent to one in three Canadians instead of one in five, which increased costs. The response rate plunged anyway, from 94 percent to 68 percent. In a staggering one-fourth of Canadian communities, not enough people responded to make the data usable.

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