The American Community Survey: mend it, don't end it!

By Razib Khan | May 22, 2012 10:13 pm

To my surprise there is apparently a move on the part of the Republicans in the House of Representatives to curtail funding for The American Community Survey. I am not too excited by the idea that you could get fined for not filling out a government survey form, but neither do I think that abolishing social statistics is the correct solution to this problem. Rather, better surveys which compensate for biases in response rates are the direction we need to go. The reality is that a government of our scope and continuing responsibilities needs the best social statistics that money can buy. I understand that many believe that some of the functions of our government are illegitimate or unwarranted, but destroying the government’s general ability to function is counter-productive unless you want to total social collapse to trigger a revolution.

Second, government data collection is a public good with positive externalities. If we abolish endeavors such as the American Community Survey than social data will be the domain only of corporations, who are not always keen on sharing that data.


Comments (3)

  1. Fisher

    If you correct for biased of the responses, you introduce bias of the institution conducting the survey. These institutions will certainly have political agendas (all government agencies have political agendas) and giving them the ability to skew the facts they collect in a direction they choose would make the data even worse IMO. If they go down such a path, the raw data must be published side-by-side, although politicians quoting these numbers will only use the number that favors them ignoring the other number.

    Overall, I think it should expanded, but not corrected. Let those that actually use the data apply the correction they need.

  2. Matthew

    It’s hyperbole in the extreme to assert that abolishing funding for a social survey is anything tantamount to “destroying the government’s general ability to function” which may lead to “revolution.” The government spends trillions of dollars more than it should; this is only the tiniest baby step in the right direction, but at least it’s a move forward. And by the way, the only thing that could plausibly lead to “total social collapse” in the near future is the spending/debt crisis that will likely explode in the next decade. Attitudes such as yours — that even a small decrease in spending for things you happen to like is out of the question — will only contribute to that coming disaster.

  3. ScottM


    We actually discussed this question in my Sampling Theory and Methods class last year (one of the best stats class I’ve taken, BTW). The answer, confirmed by the professor who is a professional consultant for government and industry, was that it would take effort but solutions can be found through proxies and processing.

    Trust me, you’ve never seen creativity until you’ve seen a statistician with one foot in the real world and one foot in mathematical theory operate.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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