This month’s Measurement Menace award goes to the United States federal government, for its recent efforts to delete or hide data it finds inconvenient or embarrassing. Our issue of The Measurement Advisor this month is all about trust, so it’s fitting that our Menace award goes to an organization that is destroying trust in government in general, and itself in particular.
A few years ago, in an effort to apply the lessons of Moneyball to government, a bi-partisan group of policy wonks and politicians started Results for America. Moneyball is the data-based decision strategy famously used by Billy Beane to turn around the Oakland Athletics baseball team, and romanticized by the movie of the same name. I’ve been following Results for America’s efforts for awhile and indeed they have been getting results, including providing tools that America’s cities are using to share data to make better decisions. At a time when trust in the U.S. government is at an all-time low, RFA is an hopeful effort to retain what remains. (We give Results for America our Measurement Maven award this month.)
Sadly, for every step forward that efforts like RFA make, there are many U.S. government agencies that take ten steps backward by deleting data or removing it from public availability. These short-sighted efforts are meant to promote its policies, insulate itself from criticism, and hide inconvenient truths. But they actually do serious damage to democracy by eroding trust in our government. They also do damage to the capacity and morale of research agencies and employees, and reduce respect for science in general.
Here are some examples of U.S. government agencies on our Dis-Honor Roll:
- The Department of Labor, for scrubbing internal analysis data that shows how bosses can skim tips from restaurant workers.
- The Department of the Interior, for deleting regulations covering the oil and gas industry.
- The Environmental Protection Agency, for essentially deleting all references to climate change and the accompanying data.
- The Federal Emergency Management Agency, for deleting statistics regarding the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico from its website. The data has been moved to the Hurricane Maria website, but appears to be selectively chosen from the government of Puerto website. Here’s what Politifact has to say on the subject.
- The White House, for deleting data on everything from federal budgets to climate change initiatives from its open data portal.
- For the POTUS himself, for distorting data or outright lying about numerous topics.
Any good researcher knows that intentionally obscuring data or cherry-picking statistics results in certain death for the credibility of any report (and the validity of the research). These days U.S. government agencies appear to not to care. They aren’t just measurement menaces, they are murderers of trust. ∞
(Image thanks to Deepti Singh.)
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