You are driving the van down an unlit, winding, country road on a dark night. A guy in the back seat leans over your shoulder and turns off your headlights. What the heck?!
That’s what the U.S. House of Representatives is trying to do. It voted to cancel the American Community Survey. That survey, run by the Census Bureau, largely replaced the “long form” questions that used to be on the decennial census. The ACS asks questions that shed light on Americans’ economic circumstances, housing situations, education, commuting patterns, and the like. It provides key information needed to know where we are going as a society and what the circumstances are in specific communities.
Don’t Bother Me with Facts
You might imagine that policymakers would want to know the facts on the ground when, for example, deciding on how to effectively spend taxpayers’ money. But those who voted to kill the ACS may not want to be confused by the facts. Let’s just drive by gut instinct.
This act seems to be part of broader, Left and Right, proclivity to undercut social science research in favor of favorite assumptions – as I discuss in this earlier post.
One argument made on behalf of the House’s vote is to protect Americans’ privacy. Hah! The ACS actually keeps personal information extremely closed and secure. Compare that to the credit card companies, debt evaluation companies, internet tracking companies, and the like. They not only know where you vacationed last year (and probably with whom), they may have that information linked to your pizza consumption and favorite TV shows. (See here.) These invasions of privacy seem to be OK for the House, but knowing, say, how long the residents of Houston spend commuting – that’s an “invasion of privacy.”
(Some suggest keeping the ACS but making answering it voluntary instead of legally required. That would undercut its coverage and validity tremendously, really wasting taxpayer money.)
Alongside this willful move to put on a blindfold is another: The House voted to defund political science research at the National Science Foundation. I guess questions such as why Americans don’t vote, how developing nations might form stable democracies, what are successful ways to defuse international disputes, and how governments can be more responsive to their citizens are not the sorts of questions the House members want answered – or maybe they know the answers already.
Social scientists are asking people to contact their representatives and senators to resist these moves. Please do. Social change is a dark and winding road; we need all the light we can get.