The United States Federal Government Is the Measurement Menace of the Month

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:

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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Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.