ETHICS, OBJECTIVITY, AND POLITICS: STATISTICS IN A PUBLIC
Stephen E. Fienberg
Federal statistical agencies in the United States have long prided
themselves on their independence and their ability to produce data in
a neutral fashion. Yet even when their data are intended to serve
national needs, the mandate to collect such data for most agencies
comes from the political arena, i.e., from Congress or from
politically-appointed federal administrators. This paper focuses on a
series of problem areas where substantial political pressures have
imperiled the collection and dissemination of quality statistical
information of material importance: quality control and the welfare
system, underenumeration and the decennial census, the extent and
consequences of the AIDS epidemic, and employment discrimination
litigation. Statisticians need to be aware that this pressure exists
and to develop professional mechanisms to help our governmental
colleagues recognize unreasonable pressure and resist it.
Keywords: Decennial census; Federal statistics system; Social
surveys; Statistics and the law; Undercount adjustment.
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