More on the Politics of Data via Canada

Ottawa Needs to Repair Damage to Census-Gathering Process: Ivan Fellegi
Jim Day | The Guardian
November 8, 2011

Fellegi, Canada’s chief statistician emeritus, spoke on statistics, public confidence and lessons from t he 2011 Canadian Census at this years Symons Lecture on the state of Canadian Confederation.

Suggestions include embeddding “The United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics Act.”

The first principle emphasizes the need for impartiality, but provides no guidance on how to achieve this goal, he said while giving the Symons Lecture on the State of Canadian Confederation Tuesday in Charlottetown.

The second principle, he says, would be used to retain trust in official statistics by Statistics Canada using strictly professional considerations, including scientific principles and professional ethics, on the methods and procedures for the collection, processing, storage, and dissemination of statistical data.

“This has clearly been violated,’’ he said, lashing out at the Harper government for scrapping the mandatory long census form for the 2011 census and replacing it with a voluntary national household survey.

Fellegi spoke about the problems with a voluntary response and the implications this has for the usefulness of the data.

“Without this information, we cannot make informed decisions about where to plan the next extension of public transit, or where to target different types of health resources…the knowledge it offers forms the backbone of our society, an information society that needs and wants to know about itself.’’ [quoting Armine Yainizyan]

“If you can’t trust the evidence, you would be stupid to make decisions based on that evidence,’’ he said.

He concludes with a great quote about the appropriate treatment of official statistics.

Like clean water, he explained, the public expects clean official statistics when needed.

To keep official statistics clean, notes Fellegi, requires proactive maintenance through legal safeguards and on-going public vigilance.

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