Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dark Age Ahead

The title, borrowed from one of Jane Jacobs' last books, seems appropriate for the topic of the Conservative government's incredibly stupid decision to make the long form of the census optional, rather than mandatory.

For those who don't know anything about sampling, the problem with making the long form of the census optional is that the results will be biased to overrepresent the sorts of people more likely to complete the census form, and underrepresent the sorts of people who are less likely to complete the form. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. The census data is some of the best, most fundamental data available for all sorts of important analysis and research done in all areas of life (setting electoral boundaries, municipal planning for roads and schools, analysis of the impact of economic policies, etc. etc.)

Credit to Stephen Gordon for initially bringing this to my attention.

The Pundit's Guide has an excellent summary of some of the uses of the census data in Canadian Elections here.

It's depressing to have this great country governed by morons, especially when they received less than 40% of the votes in the last election.

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4 Comments:

  • I agree with everything your wrote, but the Dark Age is already here.

    By Blogger Greg, at 4:33 AM  

  • Well, it seems a bit harsh to me to say we're in a dark age already. To me, a dark age will be when even the statisticians no longer realize you need to worry about sample bias (or there are no statisticians anymore).

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:49 AM  

  • As a statistician-turned-(student)-physician, I must say that it's nice to be appreciated.

    By Blogger Josh, at 2:03 PM  

  • The big deal that might be going over people's heads (not here) is that biased sampling is actually OK in some cases, as long as you have a data set to weight the responses out to a good representation of the population. The problem is that census data IS the thing you would correct for biases against. Canada will be bascially stuck correcting against either:
    1) ten year old census data
    2) projections based on the census data and the short form information (which isn't much to go on for complicated demographics).

    Both of these options are passable, but that's hardly a worthy goal for an organization like StatsCanada.

    This is a real kick in the teeth to the provinces too, since they require good census data to provide many services in the cheapest way possible.

    And since it won't save any money, it's clearly just a partison move by Harper, probably trying to make the opposition, already seemingly boring, protest against something even more boring to most (the preservation of statistical information).

    As a professional statistician, I just want to add: AAAaaarrgh!

    By Blogger Adam, at 2:30 PM  

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