Let’s All Celebrate the First World Statistics Day
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon—when declaring October 20, 2010 the first World Statistics Day—said, “Let us make this historic World Statistics Day a success by acknowledging and celebrating the role of statistics in the social and economic development of our societies and by dedicating further efforts and resources to strengthening national statistical capacity.”
World Statistics Day is the brainchild of the United Nations Statistics Division, created with the goal of making the day a global celebration and bringing more credibility and attention to national celebrations. Other goals include celebrating the service provided by the global statistical system, helping to strengthen the awareness and trust of the public in official statistics, and serving as an advocacy tool to support the work of statisticians across different settings. It is a day “to raise awareness of the many contributions of official statistics premised on the core values of service, integrity, and professionalism,” said Ki-Moon. “It will address a broad audience, ranging from decisionmakers and data providers to the generally very heterogeneous data-user community, at the national, the regional, and the global levels. The celebration will encourage their support of statistics, bringing together users and producers of statistics.”
What a wonderful idea! As I mentioned in my address at JSM 2010 in Vancouver, “Government statisticians work hard and their innovations are at times under-appreciated. There is much to celebrate in official statistics with its many accomplishments.” Let me take World Statistics Day as another opportunity to thank all statisticians who work on federal statistics around the globe for their valuable service to humanity. Let us all celebrate their service, professionalism, and integrity.
The entire world is celebrating World Statistics Day. Thailand issued a population and housing census 2010 commemorative stamp. A conference is being held in Geneva, Switzerland, titled “Measuring a Globalized World: The Geneva Contribution.” Under the high patronage of His Majesty the King Mohammed VI, the Kingdom of Morocco is celebrating World Statistics Day with the theme “Statistics: Concept, Method, and Ethics.”
The ASA, Royal Statistical Society, and National Institute of Statistical Sciences also are organizing activities to celebrate this great occasion. And with the help of staff members from the ASA, I have contacted many statistics and biostatistics department chairs with ideas for celebrations. Closer to my home—in Raleigh, North Carolina—SAS Institute is celebrating official statistics and students at North Carolina State University are organizing various activities, including a seminar by Bob Groves, director of the U.S. Census Bureau, on October 18.
November elections are not far away, and your local public policymakers may be interested in a photo opportunity on World Statistics Day. Please do not pass up a good opportunity to educate others about statistical literacy or promote the practice and profession of statistics. As you know, policymakers do make use of statistics, so why not help them use those statistics properly? For example, the late Rep. Richardson Preyer of North Carolina said, “Statistics do not always lie, but they very seldom voluntarily tell the truth. We can argue any position on this bill from a set of statistics and some study or another.” Let us work to increase the public’s trust of and improve the public opinion of official statistics.
I also contacted (nonrandomly) chief statisticians at various government agencies and asked them to say a few words about their agencies, which I include below. (By the way, as I have encouraged before, these folks make excellent speakers for your students and colleagues. Please consider inviting one of them, and thank them personally for their service to our country and profession.)
“Statistics are the chapter and verse of the story of the world around us. They provide an impartial description of our economy beyond that which we directly experience, which then allows us to understand how our own experience measures up.”
– J. Steven Landefeld, Director, Bureau of Economic Analysis
“Carroll Wright, the first commissioner of BLS, argued in 1888 that labor statistics was a means of promoting the ‘material, social, intellectual, and moral prosperity’ of the working people. Over the years, BLS has done that by producing data that inform private decisionmaking, as well as influence and shape policies which affect the well-being of American workers and their families, retirees, businesses, health care, retirement benefits, the minimum wage, work force education and training, economic development, workplace safety, and consumer spending.”
– Keith Hall, Commissioner, Bureau of Labor Statistics
“Science Resources Statistics—a division of the U.S. National Science Foundation—serves as the nation’s central clearinghouse for the collection, interpretation, and analysis of data about domestic and international resources devoted to science, engineering, and innovative activities.”
– John R. Gawalt, Program Director, Division of Science Resources Statistics, National Science Foundation
“Official statistics play a vital role in achieving good government. To this end, the IRS Statistics of Income Division produces federal tax statistics that are used by our nation’s leaders to shape economic and tax policy.”
– Susan Boehmer, Director, Internal Revenue Service, Statistics of Income Division
“Energy touches us every day—moving us from place to place, cooling our homes, and lighting our workplaces. It also affects the world around us, as it fuels the global economy and impacts our environment and international relations. People who want to make informed decisions, or simply understand energy better, turn to the U.S. Energy Information Administration as the premier source of independent energy statistics and analysis.”
– Richard Newell, U.S. Energy Information Administration
“Agricultural statistics create a level playing field for producers and consumers of agricultural commodities, stabilizing prices for the food we eat.”
– Cynthia Clark, Administrator, National Agricultural Statistics Service
“Science provides the foundation for credible decisionmaking. Only through adequate knowledge about the risks to human health and ecosystems, and innovative solutions to prevent pollution and reduce risk, can we continue to enjoy a high-quality life. With a better understanding of environmental risks to people and ecosystems, EPA can target the hazards that pose the greatest risks and anticipate environmental problems before they reach a critical level.”
– An Administrator at EPA, sent by Barry Nussbaum, Chief Statistician, Environmental Protection Agency
“Statistics produced by the federal government inform public and private decisionmakers in shaping policies, managing and monitoring programs, identifying problems and opportunities for improvement, tracking progress, and measuring change. The programs of our statistical system furnish key information to guide decisionmakers as they respond to pressing challenges, including those associated with the economy, agriculture, crime, education, energy, the environment, health, science, and transportation. In a very real sense, these statistics provide data users with a lens to focus the myriad activities of our society into a more coherent picture of the status, progress, and trends in our nation. The ability of governments, businesses, and individuals to make appropriate decisions about budgets, employment, investments, taxes, and a host of other important matters depends critically on the ready availability of relevant, accurate, and timely federal statistics. Our economy’s complexity, growth, and rapid structural changes require that public and private leaders have unbiased, relevant information on which to base their decisions.”
– Katherine Wallman, Chief Statistician, Office of Management and Budget and Past President of the ASA
It is a great time to be a statistician. Let us celebrate on October 20. Let us also show support for our fellow statisticians around the world, especially those in Canada.
The Whys of Central Government Statistics in Democracies
Robert M. Groves
At this time, when change is afoot in Canada and the United Kingdom regarding their censuses, it might be a good idea to ask the question, “Why does the central government provide statistical information to the society?” Indeed, why couldn’t some other entity in the society provide such information; why do we even need the information?
Many of the roots of central government statistical agencies lie in notions associated with democratic forms of government. If the citizenry is to make good decisions in their electoral behavior, they need to assess the current status of society. To the extent that things are worse, they should vote for changes as part of the accountability of the government to the electors. To the extent that things are better, they should support stasis.
Such statistical information, therefore, is a source of strength to the people of the society in exercising their responsibility to direct the government as citizens. In most democracies, central government institutions have arisen to provide this statistical information. Since they are controlled by the same democratic processes as the rest of the government, they can be mandated to serve the full society.
Key to their success is that the statistics the agencies produce are viewed as credible. Key to the credibility is that the estimates be viewed as free from a political point of view, that they be produced in some objective way, and that they be delivered without interpretation from some political lens. For this reason, statistical agencies need to be vigilant to separate their activities from the policymaking and program execution that occupies other agencies in the central government.
It is true that there is a burden connected to the collection of data. Indeed, businesses and households are asked to produce the data key to the statistical feedback loop of democracies. The burden must, in some sense, be fairly spread (that’s why probability sampling is desirable as a tool to ensure equity) and in proportion to the informational benefits to the society. It is appropriate for the society to discuss this balance of burden and benefit, and it is a duty of the official statistician constantly to seek ways to reduce the burden without reducing the benefits. Said in another way, it is not useful to think only of the benefits of the statistical information or only of the burdens to the society to produce it. The balance of the two is required to find wise solutions for central government statistics.