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Ask Slashdot: Can US Citizens Trust Government Data? (msn.com) 460

mmell writes: An editorial in the Washington Post and made publicly available via an MSN news feed has asked the question: "In the Trump administration era of 'alternative facts,' what happens to government data?" Given that Slashdot members (and readers) may represent a somewhat more in-the-know crowd on matters concerning data integrity and trustworthiness, I thought this would be a good place to ask: can we trust (or has anyone ever really trusted) government data? One might think government data would all be cut 'n' dried and not subject to manipulation, but I personally remember when government data back early in the Reagan presidency went from reporting nearly 15% unemployment nationwide to well under 6% by redefining what "unemployed" meant. So . . . has government data ever been trustworthy, and is it still so?
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Ask Slashdot: Can US Citizens Trust Government Data?

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  • Gov't data (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:02AM (#53727513)

    Have you ever been able to trust it? I doubt it, so nothing has really changed in this regard and the timing of this question seems partisan.

    • Re:Gov't data (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sims 2 ( 994794 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:18AM (#53727599)

      IIRC this is the same gov't that redefined broadband as 768Kbps so our broadband maps would look better back in the broadband recovery act days.

    • Re:Gov't data (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:34AM (#53727703)

      Have you ever been able to trust it? I doubt it, so nothing has really changed in this regard and the timing of this question seems partisan.

      To a degree, yes. Obviously a healthy amount of skepticism is needed and you need to be aware that governments can and will lie if there is a pressing need.

      Individual politicians? No, don't believe a word they say without fact checking. Government agencies you tend to believe because they are large bodies with multiple employees paid to analyze data. In the era of Trump though I think I will be more suspicious of even government agencies than usual. We've already seen a press release filled with bare-faced "Alternate Facts". We've already seen the National Park service censored for publishing inconvenient data.

      I think it's going to be more and more important to get news on domestic issues from overseas sources such as the BBC. Not only is our own media already polarized to the left or the right instead of just reporting facts, Trump threatened several times during his campaign to treat it as illegal for the press to criticize him. At what point will he try to enforce that?

      • Re:Gov't data (Score:4, Interesting)

        by butchersong ( 1222796 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @02:51PM (#53729947)
        Here is one example. Iceland kicks the FBI out of the country and claims directly that they were seeking to frame Julian Assange. Granted, this is a dailymail link but it is a direct quote from a minister for Iceland: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/new... [dailymail.co.uk]

        How, could we ever trust our government if our highest law enforcement agency was actively attempting to frame someone for a crime. How often does stuff like this occur in other countries friendlier to such practices than Iceland?
    • Re:Gov't data (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:36AM (#53727721)

      The most important thing about gov't data is that they describe accurately where they get the data, what each of their terms mean, and that those not change from year to year or administration to administration.

      As long as the methodology is consistent then it's useful for longitudinal comparison, regardless of whether you agree with the absolute numerical value.

      • Re:Gov't data (Score:4, Interesting)

        by ggendel ( 1061214 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:57AM (#53727855)

        I totally agree. However, you only need an elementary level in math to realize that something is amiss with Trumps numbers. For example, he claims that up to 42% in the US are out of work. Anyone with common sense would realize that having least 2 in 5 people out of work is absurd. In order to get to a figure like that, you would have to include every man, woman, and child over the age of 9. This includes retirees, students, handicapped, and other categories that can't or choose not to work. So to get that number down to a reasonable number, he would have to put children and retirees to work. I'll bet that he backtracks on this number and accepts the 5% unemployment very soon.

        • by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @10:00AM (#53727877)

          He's right though. Most 9 year olds I know aren't working. They should be sent to work in the coal mines to help make America great again!

          Damn lazy kids going to school and playing Mario Brothers instead of working the coal mines like they're supposed to.

          • In the forthcoming coal-fired 'Murica, more chimney sweeps will be required. This was historically a job for 9 year olds.
            (Accidentally hit "Overrated" instead of "Funny" when moderating. Posting to undo. My bad.)
        • For example, he claims that up to 42% in the US are out of work.

          You sure he wasn't just talking about young black males?

          • Re:Gov't data (Score:4, Informative)

            by ggendel ( 1061214 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @10:52AM (#53728171)

            Yes....

            Trump, Time magazine interview, Aug. 20, 2015: Our real unemployment rate–in fact, I saw a chart the other day, our real unemployment–because you have ninety million people that aren’t working. Ninety-three million to be exact. If you start adding it up, our real unemployment rate is 42%. We have a lot of room. We have a lot of people who want to work.

            Since there are around 38 million blacks in the US and he claims 93 million are out of work, this cannot be true unless every black man, woman, and child is out of work three times. BTW, the 93 Million figure came from a report on non-workers, not unemployed workers. Even using this bogus number comes to under 30% unemployment.

            He should have mastered this level of math by 5th grade. If you look at the ~5% unemployment figure, this is a reasonable number. When the unemployment drops below 3% we'll be under severe inflationary pressure.

            • Re:Gov't data (Score:4, Insightful)

              by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @12:00PM (#53728699) Journal

              To Trump, facts are whatever he wants them to be.

              He is a pathological liar and simply has no concept of truth that normal people would understand. I suspect that when he is lying, he isn't aware that what he is saying isn't true.

              • Re:Gov't data (Score:5, Insightful)

                by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @03:52PM (#53730383) Journal

                That's not how pathological liars work. They absolutely know they're lying. But they assume everyone else is lying, too, and it's okay to lie to a liar. Gotta fool them before they fool you, right?

                I don't think that describes Trump, though. What he mainly does is exaggerate, or a variation of Cunningham's Law. He says things that are imprecise, but in the direction of truth that otherwise the media would never report. Example, Trump wants people to know "employment numbers are bad." Obama/Hillary says 5%. Trump throws out any random high number (42%, whatever) and then everyone "proves" Trump wrong by saying "well yeah the 5% number is bullshit so maybe it's really like 15% or 20% when you start factoring in underemployed..." etc etc. Okay, great, Trump had a number wrong, but at least he recognizes the problem. Most importantly, the voters who are struggling to find work are now very aware that Trump is aware of their employment problems. They don't really give a shit about the exact number, because the only number they care about is the number of jobs they have. Obama and Hillary also both have wrong numbers, and are wrong about the existence of the problem. If Trump gave the 15% or 20% number himself everyone would just ignore it.

                Same thing with Mexican rapists. If he just said "some illegal immigrants are criminals" he would be ignored. So he said Mexico is sending rapists, and then the media has to start arguing over just how many Mexicans are rapists. Fun(?) fact, 80% of central American women and girls are raped during their illegal border crossing. [huffingtonpost.com] So, as Trump said, "well, somebody's doing the raping." Voters are then more concerned with stopping the rapes rather than nitpicking over the number of rapists.

              • He's not a liar. He's worse. He's a bullshitter. As elaborated in one of my favorite philosophical works, On Bullshit [wikipedia.org] by Harry Frankfurt, the difference between a liar and a bullshitter is that a liar knows and cares what is true and false and is deliberately trying to make people believe things that are false; while a bullshitter couldn't care less whether the things he's saying are true or false, so long as people believe what it is useful to him that they believe. If that should happen to be true, how co

        • Of course, if he uses the usual government basis for such claims (people who are of working age & health), he might be right.

          Mind you, I think he's full of crap. But I also know that the government's usual unemployment figures are a steaming pile. Just because you've given up on finding a job for now (for values of "you" and "now") doesn't mean you should be removed from the "unemployed" list, as is done by the US Government statistical guys....

    • Re:Gov't data (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @11:33AM (#53728481) Journal

      Exactly what so many people seem to missing about all the hubub around presidency is the deep state is real, our bureaucracy for good and ill are quite resilient.

      Just because you change out the man at the top and couple handfuls of his direct reports does not suddenly mean all the procedures, methods, systems, opinions, etc in use by all the 2,804,000+ federal workers and enumerable contractors both direct and corporate suddenly change too. That stuff is cultural and other than a few hot button issues that might get attention from POTUS directly takes decades to change, literally outlasting a single Presidents term of office in many cases.

      In a lot a ways we are still feeling the effects of not exactly policy but popular opinion that dates to the Clinton Presidency and that of Gorge W Bush. People choose to get into civil service or not often depending on their admiration or lack their of for the top man in charge at the time they are ready to start a career. The people who started their careers in the late 90s and early 2000s are now the folks who have risen to positions where they are decision makers and mid-level bureaucrats. We have yet to see the real influence of Obama's millennial voters here yet (sadly IMHO, not looking forward to that all).

      So the data is probably as trustworthy as it was 4 weeks or 4 years ago. Its probably as trustworthy as it was 8 years ago, or 16 or 20. That is to say its really not very trustworthy at all but probably less bias than you might imagine. There is a constant battle being fought between the left and right with the pendulum swinging both ways ever 8 years or so, but not as a far either way as the top men appear to swing. The real issue is that assumptions on either side are never really challenged or well examined because of the tug of war fought over the superficial stuff. So some labor statistic remains calculated they way it has been for the last 40 years when some probably well meaning person made a judgement call based on the information they had at hand. It never gets revisited in a serious scientific way because everyone is to busy doing studies and bickering over a handful of top line numbers that make for good headlines like the employment rate.

    • Re:Gov't data (Score:4, Insightful)

      by rsclient ( 112577 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @01:18PM (#53729273) Homepage
      Example of government data I trust:
      • Tide tables
      • Atomic clock time
      • Astronomical and orbital data
      • How many people live in different states
      • Tabulated results from asking companies how many people they are hiring

      Each of these are more or less accurate and precise, and each has their own source of biases, and therefore you can trust them more or less.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:11AM (#53727545)

    We could never trust the government. Data or action. Look at the drug war. At the Iraq war. At McCarthyism. At Kent State. Look at congress, at the obvious incompetence (series of pipes, anyone?) and craziness of the representatives. Look at the superstition that they pander to. Look at what the supreme court does in the face of what they swore an oath to the constitution to do.

    The government lies. Panders. Pushes entirely false and misleading agendas. The politicians and judges violate their oaths. Some of the agencies, such as the veterans administration, do incredibly bad jobs.

    This shouldn't be the dawn of mistrust. Anyone who trusted the government was being, at the very least, gullible.

    It sure as hell is full daylight of distrust, though. Good to see people waking up. Perhaps there is something to thank President Trump for, then.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:41AM (#53727763) Homepage Journal

      In a properly functioning government, independent bodies are created to gather data for use by the public and politicians. Those bodies are overseen by bi-partisan groups with representatives from multiple parties, and their mandate is independence, transparency and impartiality.

      It works in some democracies. The UK has the Office for Budget Responsibility, Japan has various agencies... Of course, politicians do their usual thing of cherry-picking and and misinterpreting the data, but the raw stuff is available and generally considered reliable.

      It's also not the case that US governments have always been this bad either. I don't recall one telling the National Parks Service to stop publishing factual information because it contradicted their lies over something as trivial as the size of the inauguration crowd.

      • by Erioll ( 229536 )

        In a properly functioning government, independent bodies are created to gather data for use by the public and politicians. Those bodies are overseen by bi-partisan groups with representatives from multiple parties, and their mandate is independence, transparency and impartiality.

        I'd say you're missing one main part there: "bi-partisan groups" is itself one of your problems. In more functional democracies, they're called "all-party committees" because we're not two-party systems.

        I agree with most of what you posted, but remember to focus on one of your other major problems, that being your two-party system.

        As for those knocking the submitter, at least they were self-aware enough to realize that this may always have been a problem that they were for some reason (ie: their own po

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojo AT world3 DOT net> on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @10:30AM (#53728049) Homepage Journal

          The two party system is a problem, but it's nothing compared to the danger of what Trump wants.

          Trump is pushing for people to accept his "alternative facts" over the truth. It's a standard feature of post-truth politics. You pick the "facts" that you prefer. He wants voters to do that, to believe him rather than the press or government agencies that are publishing contradictory information.

          Both Trump and his press secretary and various members of his staff have said this over and over. The press is dishonest, anyone who contradicts him is a liar. It's extremely dangerous to disregard the truth and stop caring about it.

    • by Jaime2 ( 824950 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:58AM (#53727863)

      This shouldn't be the dawn of mistrust. Anyone who trusted the government was being, at the very least, gullible.

      This is the surprise development of the information age... It was long thought that more information would give people a basis to make better decisions. The truth turned out to be that more information gave people more opportunity to discover facts that align with their beliefs. People trust data that says what they already think, they distrust data that says otherwise. It's always been that way.

      The end result is that the trustworthiness of data is irrelevant in the public sphere. Regular people are simply discussing their opinion and hiding that opinion behind a "fact" they discovered.

      Among experts in a field, data trustworthiness is important. However, experts are much better at validating data than the general public, so this usually isn't a problem.

  • by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:11AM (#53727549) Journal

    I think it depends on the dept that your talking about. I wouldn't trust anything coming from Trumps office for shit... Places like NOAA, NASA, etc etc. I would probably trust more. It all depends how how horrible it gets under Trump.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      >> I wouldn't trust anything coming from Trumps office for shit...

      Would you have honestly trusted data coming from Hillary's office had she become president?

    • Agreed... the science underlings are going to be the same as before, and it'll get out if they're being censored by the administration.
      • by cdrudge ( 68377 )

        the science underlings are going to be the same as before

        ...unless they're laid off/fired in witch hunts before hand.

      • Trump has already made clear he won't censor them - he is simply shutting them down, any department that has consistently been saying things he doesn't want to be true (like NASA's earth science division) is for the chopping block.

  • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:11AM (#53727553)
    Silly Partisan Slashdot Editors want to make this into a Trump Thing, but they are too young or uneducated to remember things like the (first, of many) Food Pyramid, job creation data scams, alternative energy revelations, and... the list is long. Google "erroneous government data." And stop contributing to the Fake News epidemic with these disingenuous strawman-centric pseudo-stories...
    • by CharlieG ( 34950 )

      Heck, Yesterday's news (from Friday's release) that there was a "bug" that under reported Not for Profit university student loan default rates, but the same bug didn't effect "for profit" schools, and almost the entire difference in the data was the bug. But because of that, we don't hold not for profit schools to the same rules as for profit. Gee, maybe it is because some of the biggest names, including Ivys would have been charged...

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @12:41PM (#53729001) Homepage Journal

      Who trust government data? Anybody who uses a USGS map. Or a weather forecast that uses satellite data. Or who uses a GPS (both the satellite signal and the base map, which is compiled by private companies from government sources).

      Now any statistic is capable of misleading, if you choose to misinterpret it. Take unemployment. I think that figure is accurate, it just doesn't mean what people think it does. By 2016 unemployment had recovered to where it was before the Great Recession, but if you think that means the government is fraudulently telling you that the job picture is good, that's you misinterpreting what it means. The low unemployment rate masks (a) relatively low labor participation and (b) disastrously low job growth and labor participation in certain regions of the country -- particularly rural and small to middle-sized cities. How do I know this? Well, government data, obviously. [usda.gov]

      You are conflating "data", with "information" and "opinion". The Food Pyramid is opinion, not data. If you think for yourself and drill down into the facts a bit, you'll find that government data is pretty useful. Opinions, less so.

  • I rest my case.
  • Humans are bastards (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The motto of the Royal Society is "Nullis in verba". The best of all of science says "take no persons word as truth".

    Humans are terrible to each other. You can't trust the government, and you never could. It is not about party, it is about humanity. You can't trust the Chinese, or the Americans.

    If you look at Italian culture, lying is part of their identity. Why? If you look at all of the oldest cultures in the world, lying is part of their identities. Why?
    Humans will kill each other - that is why th

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Trump is about Truth. In fact, Trump is Truth itself (as opposed to Crooked Hilary).

    So since Trump has won, there's only Truth!

    (Captcha was "suspects". Perhaps Slashdot's AI has noticed something fishy. What could it be, what could it be?)

    • That's true!

      And it's still true tomorrow when he says the opposite. It's just another truth! He is Trump! He has more truths than anyone else! Make America true again!

  • Newsflash: Both sides of the aisle are responsible for everything the US has become.

    The amount of trust you should place in government facts and figures shouldn't vary from one Presidency to the next.

    • Europe here, what both sides do you mean? From over here, your both sides look similar enough to be considered the same side.

      Maybe it's the distance that makes them indistinguishable from each other, I could swear that your politicians all say and do the same.

      • Europe here, what both sides do you mean? From over here, your both sides look similar enough to be considered the same side.

        Maybe it's the distance that makes them indistinguishable from each other, I could swear that your politicians all say and do the same.

        That's an easy one. The two sides are necessary to give the illusion of choice to voters.

      • If you have a choice between two shit sandwiches, but one of them is dried, grass-fed cow shit, and the other is a hot steaming pile of HIV-positive human shit, it's absolutely true that they're both shit and you'd be best off eating neither, but it's even more clear which one you should choose if you have no choice but to eat one or the other.

  • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:20AM (#53727609)

    Trusting government data is an age old problem, and even though I might Godwin myself over this, Goebbel said things like:

    A lie told once remains a lie but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth

    and

    The truth is the greatest enemy of the State.

    That Trump is trying to channel Goebbels* is not surprising given who Trump is and his past utterances. (But I don't know which Emperor he was trying to channel when he proclaimed the "National Day of Patriotic Devotion" which coincided with his inauguration - seriously .. it's a real thing)

    * The headline of TFA is "In the Trump administration era of ‘alternative facts,’ what happens to government data?", something that TFS should have taken into account.

  • One might think government data would all be cut 'n' dried and not subject to manipulation, but I personally remember when government data back early in the Reagan presidency went from reporting nearly 15% unemployment nationwide to well under 6% by redefining what "unemployed" meant. So . . . has government data ever been trustworthy, and is it still so?

    Under Obama, we stopped counting people as unemployed if they gave up looking for a job. Such people are difficult to track is the argument. Oh really, tha

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I personally remember when government data back early in the Reagan presidency went from reporting nearly 15% unemployment nationwide to well under 6% by redefining what "unemployed" meant.

      Under Obama, we stopped counting people as unemployed if they gave up looking for a job. Such people are difficult to track is the argument.

      Reagan is the one who stopped counting people not looking for work. Talk radio started describing these people as "discouraged" during Obama's administration, but they were not counted among the Bush unemployed, either.

    • Wow, you got a lot of dishonest stuff there yourself. So lets start by addressing the first one.

      Under Obama, we stopped counting people as unemployed if they gave up looking for a job.

      Can you provide some citations for your claim? Because the only thing I recall being change was Obama making our unemployment tracking MORE accurate, not less. Here's my citation (and select quotes):

      http://usatoday30.usatoday.com... [usatoday.com]

      "the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), beginning Saturday, will raise from two years to five years the upper limit on how long someone can be listed as having been jobless."

      So

    • by gosand ( 234100 )

      The food pyramid was laughably unscientific when it was created. Need I go on?

      And it still is. Today's guidelines are based on that purely "made up" pyramid. Wonder why we have so many sick people?
      Lots of info out there, but this is a good one. The Limits of Scientific Evidence and the Ethics of Dietary Guidelines [youtube.com]

    • by cusco ( 717999 ) <brian.bixbyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @11:01AM (#53728261)

      They stopped counting the long-term unemployed under St. Ronnie, under Shrub they redefined 'long-term'. I believe it was under Bush the Elected (but maybe under Clinton) that they stopped counting people who didn't have phones.

      Removing food, fuel, housing and healthcare from the official yardstick for inflation happened during the '80s, that was how Reagan "beat inflation". In the '90s they added electronics and communications to make the numbers look better (not sure if they're still in there).

      Benghazi? Seriously? I thought even InfoWars had given up beating that poor dead horse.

      The IRS didn't target conservative groups, they were instructed by Congress to enforce the laws on the books about registering non-profit organizations (IIRC environmental groups were the actual target of Congress). That conservative groups were found to be breaking the law wasn't a surprise to anyone with two brain cells to rub together. They chose a category which disallowed political action so that they could hide their donor lists, and started politicking before they even finished the paperwork. The non-Libertardian groups caught said, "Oops, we chose the wrong category and will fix it."

      Before you go off on your tangent of calling me an Obama-loving Democratic shill I should probably make clear that I loathe what the Democratic Party has become and seriously dislike Barry "Bush-lite" Obama. Just your post was so full of bullshit that it irritated me.

  • Nothing Changes (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:28AM (#53727665)

    "In the Trump administration era of 'alternative facts,' what happens to government data?"

    The only thing that's changing here is what it's being called.
    Alternative Facts / Propaganda / Fake News / Misleading Information / Stretching the Truth / Whatever

    This is an issue with any administration, in any government around the world. They're going to twist things however they can to in order to ensure
    you are thinking about a topic in a certain way.

    Some examples:

    The WMD debacle that led to the Iraq invasion.
    The filtering of news coverage for the Iraq War. ( and any conflict since Vietnam for that matter )
    Number of civilians killed as collateral damage in any military operation.
    Unemployment numbers ( which conveniently leave out those who exhaust their unemployment benefits and aren't counted as unemployed )
    Blaming Russia / Hackers for anything that happens these days

    Some folks in control of the distribution of information are ALWAYS going to distort it in such a way to ensure it is of maximum value to whatever agenda
    they're trying to push. This is certainly nothing new. As a result, the history you and I are familiar with may or may not actually be the full truth. ( a partial
    one, or even anything close to the truth at all )

    The moral of this story is this: I wouldn't trust any source of information one hundred percent, no matter where it comes from.

    • Time to feed a troll.

      The WMD debacle that led to the Iraq invasion.
      The filtering of news coverage for the Iraq War. ( and any conflict since Vietnam for that matter )

      This is not providing intel, not feeding false data.”

      Number of civilians killed as collateral damage in any military operation.

      I might be wrong, but I haven't seen anyone showing the data is wrong. They have “unconventional” understanding of what is a combatant and they admit that they can't always verify actual deaths.

      Unemployment numbers ( which conveniently leave out those who exhaust their unemployment benefits and aren't counted as unemployed )

      They report on U1 to U6. Again, you might feel that U6 is more important, but that is not the problem of government data.

      Blaming Russia / Hackers for anything that happens these days

      Really everything? Which data is putting blame on Russia? There are intelligence reports, that blame them

  • Alternative Facts (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dcw3 ( 649211 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:28AM (#53727667) Journal

    Before you go getting your panties all in a wad, the Bureau of Labor Standards (BLS) reports quite a few numbers on unemployment statistics. Unfortunately, too many people harp about the basic unemployment rate w/o taking the time to go look at the other numbers available...underemployment for example. The "redefinition" of unemployment removed people who weren't looking for work from the basic number. But, let's take a look at https://www.bls.gov/news.relea... [bls.gov] and see what's actually being produced, and compare apples to apples instead of whining that someone changed (or refined depending upon what spin you'd like to put on it) the calculation.

  • Silly question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:32AM (#53727689)

    Government data is a collective noun for reports from hundreds of different organisations, some run by people obsessed with clerical accuracy and some run by people obsessed with partisan propaganda who are happy to massage a number. All of them under two houses of congress and a white house which changes its stance on what numbers they wish were different and how on a biannual basis.

    The result is that you simply cannot ANSWER the question "is government data reliable" - there's just no single answer. A lot of it is reliable and, in fact, the best data available on some topics. A lot of it is flagrant bullshit, or at least deliberately presented in a way to deceive. And then there is data where it's more ambiguous. A lot of Austrian economists disagree with the inflation rate - and claim it's much higher by doing a different calculation from the raw data to substantiate this - while a Keynesian mainstream economists generally agree that the official figure is a decent representation of the number. It may not always accurately reflect price shifts (and it's always a bit behind the times) but for economic policy decisions it gives the information that is needed to make decisions like "should we raise interest rates, are we in a liquidity trap that demands quantitative easing or are we in a boom-cycle where that will cause a disaster ?"
    Who is right, will largely depend on whether you think Austrian economics is a cult divorced from any usefulness by it's refusal to accept empirical data as evidence and thus happy willingness to reject the constant failures of it's policies to have the right results as evidence against those policies... or see Keynesianism as a rampant scam designed to give government the power to decide what money is worth and control everybody's lives (I subscribe to the "The version of economics best supported by empirical data and historic ability of it's predictions to have expected outcomes is the most scientific" school - which is Keynesian through and through).

    Some government data is the result of strenuous scientific study which is highly unlikely to be false, fabricated or manipulated (and almost impossible to apply to do this with), a lot are from softer human sciences which is more susceptible to this.

    There is no answer to the question of "is government data reliable" - but you CAN answer "is *this piece* of government data reliable".

    It's interesting how the Donald seems dead-set to pursue his agenda not by altering government data (particularly the scientific type) but by eradicating it - defunding or abolishing government research agencies that produce data on topics he would rather pretend is different or non-existent. As is climate change will stop happening if he defunds NASA's earth-science division so they can't tell us about it anymore. Sure this will weaken science over-all by removing a valuable source of data on how fast things are happening, but it won't make them stop happening. That gives you a clear view on the difference between easy-propaganda-data and scientific-data. Trump is well aware that he cannot pressure NASA to start reporting denier-friendly results, they are too well scrutinized by other scientists outside the agency, and if they suddenly stopped publishing raw data it would look too suspicious - so his best answer to keep his claims from being challenged by his own agency is to silence the agency.

  • by Stolpskott ( 2422670 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @09:34AM (#53727701)

    This is maybe not quite so much of a tinfoil-hat post as the title might make it seem, but any data published by any party which uses that data to support their argument has to be seen in the light that the data is a supporting argument for their point of view.
    Whether it is a scientist/politician/manager/slashdot poster tweaking their selection criteria to give more favourable results or just wholesale making up statistics by pulling them out of a dark hole, we are all human and we are all going to be tempted. Citation and open availability of the complete dataset for peer/independent review is the only way to avoid it.
    And yes, I am sure that my post would benefit from some citations to confirm the described human behaviour. But as 95% of /. users will not read the comment and 90% of those that do will not click on the citation links, and 100% of the people involved in writing the comment are too damned lazy to go and find the citations and link them, someone else can write the [citation needed] comment below.

    • by McLae ( 606725 )
      Drug safety trials. Need I say more? I must be getting old, I do not remember Trump claiming to own a pharma company. Maybe he did a marketing campaign for one?
  • At least in the case of the Reagan example.

  • There were 1.5 million people at the Trump inauguration. It was the largest audience in history.

    You can believe government data. Listen and Believe.

  • I can't trust government data because it is manipulated to favor their agenda.
    I can't trust corporate data because it is warped in a way to maximize profit.
    I can't trust data higher education because they are in cohorts with the top two and if they have something too far off the norm they won't get their phd.
    Scientists tend to form cliche and will discredit anyone who tries to break their world view. By rejecting a hypothesis without even studying its aspects.
    I can't trust my own data because it is nearly i

  • I used to run a system for the government. Users would complain that they could get 6 different answers to the same question. I had to show them that they were getting 6 different answers to 6 slightly different questions. It was like "how many of these things to I have?" There might have been 18 in stock, but 3 are broken awaiting repair, 2 are waiting for upgrades, and one is damaged beyond economical repair. Depending on how they ask the question, they will get different combinations of those items. Answ
  • I still remember the 1 in 4 statistic, which wasn't even used by the White House until *after* it had been debunked as a bold-faced lie.

  • We have this all the time as far as recalibrating data. Does anyone think we've been in a boom economy with sub-6% unemployment? I sure don't.

    Most of it is from the media. Change the definition of AIDS from a CD4 count of 250 to 200 and voila, 6 months later, the media reports about a spike in AIDS cases.

    Part of the problem comes from the media who present an agenda (or don't know what they're talking about), their reluctance to impart data (out of fear of boring their viewers) and of course part of
  • Statistics at that level are approximations, plain and simple. Ask any statistician and they'll explain in detail how it works. If you choose, educate yourself. Take the time to understand what it is they are saying and make your own interpretation. The reward is worth it. Even boards like Slashdot and Reddit are more echo chambers for like sentiment than actual education on the facts. Do the legwork.
  • Time to get some popcorn!

  • I personally remember when government data back early in the Reagan presidency went from reporting nearly 15% unemployment nationwide to well under 6% by redefining what "unemployed" meant.

    Why go back to Reagan — a hateful RethugliKKKan — (with an uncited "drive-by" accusation) when a beloved Nobel Peace Prize winner did just such a big lie [gallup.com] in 2010 [usatoday.com]?

    And, if we are searching for the first such lie, we ought to go to, at least, F.D. Roosevelt — another beloved Democrat — and his redef [wikipedia.org]

  • The Internet is for politics nowadays. And the political actors who dominate the Internet aren't independent.

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @10:06AM (#53727911)

    You should never trust data, unless you can verify it. This does not only work for government data, but also for data from companies or scientist or people or aliens.

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @10:09AM (#53727929)

    What changed during the Bush administration?
    What changed during the Obama administration?

    Why the fuck do you expect change now?

    I don't get it. I really don't. NOTHING changed from one administration change to the next for the past decades. Oh yes, there was a war on terror. Oh. And? That would have been in what way different under any other rule?

    Face it, folks: You're fucked. You have a system in place that allows you to choose every 4 years whether you want to feed one group of useless gits or the other group of useless gits. That makes a huge difference for the gits, and that's why that election fight is fought tooth and nail because it's all or nothing for them. Fo you, it's nothing. Either way.

    Mostly because you don't get to choose who you can vote for. That's chosen for you. In the end, when you strip the whole fluff, the whole spectacle has a lot of the old Soviet times when you even sometimes got to choose between two candidates from the same party, supporting the same ideals and the same economic system, not questioning in the slightest the all-holy doctrines and differing in insignificant bullshit topics that were hyped and emotionalized to insane levels despite having exactly zero impact on anything that really mattered in the end.

    Let's be brutally honest: The same is true for your DemRep Party.

  • Nothing new... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    This is anything new. As a mathematician, I've seen an incredible number of abuses of statistics in every field. At my non-profit college, after releasing salary data, as required by the government, it was stated that nearly 40% of the payroll goes to "management positions" (administration, not teachers). After raising a huge stink, they simply redefined what "management" meant in the college and decreased this number to about 20%.

    There will always be abuses of facts, statistics, and "truths". It is up to t

  • What trump said was correct, from his view you could see what he said and could make the guess of 1 million, you can see that from the pictures taken from the area he was standing looking at the crowd. Him sending out his press secretary to make those comments on saturday were just plain stupid, wrong and lieing.
    However the media is at fault for the way they are thought of, they start by picking on statement of "from what I could see, and it looked like" and saying that is a lie; easy to make the case of
  • The Washington Post calling out anybody on alternate facts is dubious [forbes.com] at best. Downright scandalous at worst. And MSNBC [pewresearch.org] plainly state they are an opinion station not a news agency. I want to know where anybody is getting "official" numbers for any of the inaugurations since they stopped taking headcounts years ago. All counts you see put forth as fact are actually guesstimations based on a photo of the event. The numbers can be close [theatlantic.com] but never verified. The inauguration is harder to count because no aerial
  • by Rande ( 255599 ) on Tuesday January 24, 2017 @11:55AM (#53728643) Homepage

    that 'Alternative Facts' will be the phrase of the year.

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