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ETHICS, OBJECTIVITY, AND POLITICS: STATISTICS IN A PUBLIC POLICY CONTEXT

Stephen E. Fienberg

Abstract:

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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