Monthly Archive for October, 2013

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Dear Congress: Why are you doing this?

It is likely that the government shutdown and debt ceiling crisis will be resolved this week, but there has still been harm to the data and research infrastructure. Bookmark this post and use it as notes for your next letter to your representatives.

The Government Shutdown was Temporary, Its Damage to Science Permanent
Andrew Rosenberg | Scientific American
October 18, 2013

Federally funded science allows us to do things as a country that we could never do alone. But the threat of shutdown, combined with inconsistent funding from Congress, leaves America’s scientific enterprise in the lurch.

Shutdown: It ain’t over when it’s over
Jeff Neal | Federal News Radio
October 15, 2013
Author notes that the shutdown is not a toggle switch, where we can easily switch the government back to “on.” There rare many repercussions of the shutdown, detailed in the post.

Sunday Shutdown Reader: Harold Varmus on Self-Destruction in the Sciences
James Fallows | The Atlantic
October 13, 2013

Closed Question
Editorial | Nature
October 9, 2013
The US shutdown is damaging science, and Congress must be called to account.
There are more specific stories, linked to the end of this editorial. In case, they don’t remain linked, here they are:
NASA missions struggle to cope with shutdown
08 October 2013
US Antarctic research season is in jeopardy
04 October 2013
NIH shutdown effects multiply
02 October 2013
US government shuts down
01 October 2013

Cancelled NIH study sections: a subtle, yet disastrous, effect of the government shutdown
Rafael Irizarry | StatsBlogs
October 10, 2013
(This article was originally published at Simply Statistics, and syndicated at StatsBlogs.)

The New York Times has a series of editorials, all tagged with “Government Shutdown.” I’ll link to one of them on funding the Census Bureau.

To Stop the Craziness in Washington, Fund the Census
Teresa Tritch | New York Times
October 4, 2013

And, finally, most readers of this blog probably received an Action Alert from Population Association of America (PAA). When it shows up on the PAA website, I’ll link to it here.

Time for a Legal Prohibition on Data Re-identification?

This is a very thorough blog post on respondent re-identification issues. The author takes to task the re-identification rainmakers, who have made careers out of exposing re-identification risks – often overstating the risks. He calls for a well-designed legal prohibition on data re-identification.

In fact, may of the restricted data contracts PSC users operate under have an “inadvertent discovery” clause. Here’s the language from LAFANS, which prohibits broadcasting the “find” to others.

Ethical Concerns, Conduct and Public Policy for Re-Identification and De-identification Practice: Part 3 (Re-Identification Symposium)
Daniel Barth-Jones | Columbia University
October 2, 2013

Janet Yellen, Economic Demographer

Janet Yellen was nominated as the first female head of the Federal Reserve yesterday [note, that Rand Paul has put a hold on the nomination] . Here is a paper she and her husband George Ackerloff wrote almost 20-years ago on the increase in unmarried childbearing:

An Analysis of Out-Of-Wedlock Births in the United States
George Ackerloff and Janet Yellen | Brookings Review
Fall 1996
This Policy Brief was prepared for the Fall 1996 issue of the Brookings Review and adapted from “An Analysis of Out-of-Wedlock Childbearing in the United States,” which appeared in the May 1996 issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Also of interest is a news story about Ackerloff in the mid-1980s on “efficiency wages” based on their experience hiring babysitters:

Why Unemployment Sometimes Lingers On Stirs Renewed Interest
Alan Murray | Wall Street Journal
December 26, 1985
Note that a young Larry Summers (age 30) is mentioned in this piece. Sticky wages are also mentioned in this summary of her appointment in the New York Times:

Yellen’s Path From Liberal Theorist to Fed Voice for Jobs
Binyamin Appelbaum | New York Times
October 9, 2013
As thorough as this piece is, it fails to mention that Charlie Brown was a teaching assistant for her at Harvard.

A Sad Day for Demographers

The government shutdown has affected many government websites and data operations. And, in fact, it is useful to look at this sortable table to see how many furloughed workers there are by agency (Commerce is 87%). Below are links to some compilations – some might be useful as images to use in presentations:

[Slideshow of shuttered government websites] via @phylogenomics
[Fact-checking websites shutdown] via @PolitiFact

Here’s a re-cap by the WSJ on how to keep track of the economy during the government shutdown. Losing access to the federal statistical system is quite crippling.

How to Track the Economy During A Government Shutdown
Josh Mitchell and Jeffrey Sparshott | Wall Street Journal
October 1, 2013

Finally, there is a work-around to reaching shuttered government websites via the internet archive. However, the access is slow and some of the data-access tools don’t work. For instance CDC Wonder gets stuck in an “I agree” loop.

internet archive feature

The internet archive has even hard-coded archival links to many of the shuttered websites, but I find this access slow – perhaps because everyone is using the same portal. Still, this is a useful link for posterity:

Blacked Out Government Websites Available Through Wayback Machine
Posted on October 2, 2013 by brewster

Counting Prisoners

The New York Times had another editorial on this issue:
Prison-Based Gerrymandering
Editorial Board | New York Times
September 26, 2013

A search on its site shows that this has been a common editorial/story topic
[Counting Prisoners Editorials/Stories]

The PSC Infoblog has had a previous post on this topic as well, which included the Census Bureau’s response to the issue. The Census Bureau released group quarters data in time for redistricting.

Another excellent source on this topic is the National Academy of Sciences book, which is available in the PSC library:
Once, Only Once and in the Right Place: Residence Rules in the Decennial Census
Daniel Cork and Paul Voss, Editors | The National Academies
2006

Two updates from The Census Project

Sorry, Come Back Later (Make an Educated Guess in the Meantime)
Terri Ann Lowenthal | The Census Project Blog
October 7, 2013
This piece reflects on the government shutdown – reflecting that Congress has done what the House couldn’t do – shut down the federal statistical infrastructure.

Thanks to the government shutdown, the Census Bureau’s work has come to a grinding halt. No harassing phone calls to unwitting, over-burdened citizens. No pesky, door-knocking surveyors invading the privacy of hard-working Americans who just want to live a quiet, government-free life (as soon as someone fills that pothole down the street). Even the duty-bound who want to cooperate (however grudgingly) from the comfort of their own computers are out of luck; online survey response is closed for business.

Losing Sleep (While Counting Sheep)
Terri Ann Lowenthal | The Census Project Blog
October 1, 2013
This is a timely piece on the first day of a government shutdown. The Census Bureau needs funding from Congress so that it can do the necessary research for a smarter 2020 Census. The review of the fiscal situation and Congressional gridlock is not pretty.

budget uncertainty is causing significant concerns for the 2020 census program as we enter that period during which it is crucial to conduct tests so that we can begin applying new technologies and methods … We have already delayed planned research and testing activities to later years … We cannot further delay critical research that will help us make critical design decisions for those systems. [John Thompson]

. . . the Census Bureau needs money to figure all of this out in time. The bureau can execute a fundamentally redesigned 2020 census for the 2010 census price tag (plus inflation), Director Thompson says. Invest now, save later – that’s the bottom line.

And, a nice closing line: “Did I mention that the next census starts in less than six years? The Census Bureau can do a lot of things, but it cannot stop the clock. I bet Director Thompson is having a few sleepless nights, too.”

I might note that according to this link, 87% of Commerce employees are furloughed. Obviously, Census2020 planning is not happening today. I wonder if it shuts down the data collection operations for the ACS, CPS, etc.?

census.gov is #shutdown but you can read about Census 2010 research

The Census Bureau website is down with the government shutdown:

Census shutdown message

But, you can read all about some research based on the 2010 Census. Here is a sampling:

Misclassifying New York’s Hidden Units as Vacant in 2010: Lessons Gleaned for the 2020 Census
Joe Salvo and Peter Lobo | Population Research and Policy Review
August 6, 2013
This is a great article if you are interested in the details of the history of the Census Bureau’s master address file; how it gets created, corrected, updated, etc.

This piece traces the puzzling number of vacancies in two areas of New York City during the 2010 Census, which resulted in a lower census count than New York City had expected. It is a nice piece of detective work. As a reminder, Peter Lobo was a PSC trainee who I always quote as saying “I worked with Ren Farley at Michigan, and the time I spent there were some of the best years of my life.”

Quality and the 2010 Census
Hogan, Howard et.al. | Population Research and Policy Review
April 5, 2013
This is a nice summary of ways to evaluate census quality – 2 of the 5 authors are PSC trainees (Howard Hogan and Victoria Velkoff).

There is a companion press conference on the Census Bureau website, which will be linked to when the #shutdown is over.

The rest of the articles in this special issue devoted to the 2010 Census are here:

Population Research and Policy Review
Volume 32, Issue 5, October 2013
Special issue on New Findings from the 2010 Census
Guest Editor: William P. O’Hare