With so much at stake, should statisticians or politicians prevail?
John Fund, writing for the Wall Street Journal, informs readers of the powerful implications of the Obama administration’s attempts to redesign the U.S. Census.
The dangers are real. Not only does the census provide the basis for congressional redistricting, it furnishes the raw data by which government spending is allocated on everything from roads to schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also uses the Census to prepare the economic data that so much of business relies upon. “If the original numbers aren’t as hard as possible, the uses they’re put to get fuzzier and fuzzier,” says Bruce Chapman, who was director of the Census in the 1980s.
The problem of counting minorities and the homeless has long been known, writes Fund. Census Bureau statisticians believe that a vigorous hard count, supplemented by adding in the names of actual people missed by head counters but still found in public records, is likely to lead to a far more defensible count than sampling-based adjustment.
“The real issue is who directs the Census, the pros or the pols,” says Mr. Chapman. “You would think an administration that’s thumping its chest about respecting science would show a little respect for scientists in the statistical field.” He worries that a Census director reporting to a hyperpartisan such as White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel increases the chances of a presidential order that would override the consensus of statisticians.
The Obama administration is downplaying how closely the White House will oversee the Census Bureau. But Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insists there is “historical precedent” for the Census director to be “working closely with the White House.”