The downfall of data

The PAAs last week were all about data. The exhibits at the conference were sponsored by various longitudinal surveys such as the PSID, the Mexican Family and Life Survey, RAND FLS and more. As I perused the poster sessions, it was amazing how many posters came from employees at the US Census Bureau. Having interviewed there last year, I was aware of their numbers, but the PAAs bring to light just how much work they are doing at the Census to illuminate American life. Beyond that, presentations used the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data, as I do, the NLSY, the ACS, the Mexican Migration Project, and so many more. The concentration on data was unlike I’ve seen at any other conference. Theory was definitely not a big focus.

So, it’s with sadness that today I saw the news that the House voted to cut funding for the American Community Survey, a Census Bureau instrument that tracks all sorts of data about Americans. I received the survey at my home in Boulder shortly after the decennial Census. My roommates, feeling survey fatigued, refused to fill it out, but I, being the economist and possible eventual end-user of this data, went ahead. I also encouraged friends and family to fill out their Census forms.

This comes on the heels of funding being cut for the NLSY (though restored for FY 2012), a concurrent distaste for political science research in the House, and doesn’t bode well for other demographic endeavors. Economists, sociologists, anthropologists, biostatisticians, public health researchers, epidemiologists, political scientists and more depend on these data–from studies already in existence and to-be-collected–to do meaningful and interesting research. While (sometimes) privately funded, small-scale longitudinal studies like the Fragile Families study provide a good snapshot of groups, only nationwide, representative studies can help us to know what is going on in the country as a whole.

The link above claimed the survey was an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. Which is absolute crap. The US government does things that are far more invasive than ask how many years you went to school and how many flush toilets you have. And far less useful.

Update: John Sides talks about his NSF Grant and similarly cut funding for political science research on the Monkey Cage blog.

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