Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Census Decision Is 'Mindless'

When it comes to heavy hitters in the sciencey-facty biz, they don't come any heavier than Nature. But that's where this report comes from.
Canada will pay a huge price for the Harper government's "short-sighted" decision to scrap the mandatory census, say leading U.S. statisticians.

"This decision will lower the quality and raise the cost of information on nearly every issue before Canada's government," Stephen Fienberg at Carnegie Mellon University and Kenneth Prewitt at Columbia University say Thursday in the journal Nature.

Fienberg elaborated in a telephone interview from Pittsburgh, saying the decision makes little sense and the added costs will be enormous.

"It's just mindless," he says, predicting that government will end up spending "billions" replacing the mandatory long-form census that was sent to 20 per cent of the population with the voluntary survey to be sent to 33 per cent.
. . .
"Government statistics are no less vital to a nation's scientific infrastructure than is an observatory or particle accelerator, and need stable funding and protection," they write in Nature under the headline 'Save your census'.

Detailed, reliable data is needed for everything from determining how many hospitals are needed, to tracking how poverty and prosperity relate to health or education, they say: "Census data provide the gold standard against which all other studies on such issues can be corrected and judged."

Concerns about privacy, soaring costs and plummeting response rates threaten censuses in many countries, but Fienberg and Prewitt say some of the arguments are unfounded.

"Privacy' concerns make for good sound bites, but the fact is that no one in government is more zealous about privacy protection than national statistics officers," they say.

Hmmm. Short-sighted, mindless, destructive, madly expensive. Must be anti-elite pseudo-populist ReformaTory policy.

By the way, over at Census Watch, the score -- updated yesterday -- is now 339 organizations, governments, political parties, professional bodies, and prominent individuals opposed to scrapping the long-form versus 11 rightwing thinktanks, ditto columnists, and a couple of Con MPs.

But when you add in the heft of a Nature article on the side of the angels, those 11 wingnuts go bouncing off into the stratosphere. Hopefully, never to be heard from again.

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