Friday, July 16, 2010

What Dan Gardner said.

99 times out of a 100.

I believe he speaks the truth about loving to write about statistics (MEIB)

Then the campaigns and petitions began. A long, long list of organizations wrote to formally protest the government's "misguided decision" -- that's the phrase polite people use instead of "jackassery" -- and demand its repeal. And these weren't the usual pothead Marxists. It was the Statistical Society of Canada. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The Canadian Marketing Association. The Canadian Association for Business Economics. I doubt the membership of the Canadian Association for Business Economics spends a lot of time reading Das Kapital and taking bong hits.

Then the Earth shook. The change to the census will produce "seriously biased" data, the legendary statistician Ivan Fellegi told this newspaper. It is "indefensible." Coming from a man who spent half a century at Statistics Canada, including 23 years as Chief Statistician, this was rather like Moses returning from the mountain and explaining to the wayward Israelites that, no, you can't worship a golden calf, you idiots.

I should have known better. Remember when Senator Nancy Ruth was blasted for telling women's groups they should "shut the f--- up" about the Harper government's stand on foreign aid and abortion? Ruth was painted as a Conservative bully. That was wrong. Ruth was actually sympathetic to the women's groups and she was warning them that if they kept protesting the Harper government would dig in and get really nasty.

And she was right. That's how this government operates.

Facing an army of angry PhDs, Clement actually fought a Twitter battle about the change with economist Stephen Gordon. Needless to say, Gordon won, a fact confirmed when Fellegi came down from the mountain and smacked Clement with his stone tablets.


By repeating these empty claims without the slightest acknowledgement of what the critics had been saying, the minister was sticking his fingers in his ears while loudly humming Rule Britannia. It was a gesture of contempt. "I can't hear you!" Clement mocked. "I can't hear you!"

The same day, in The Globe and Mail, Bill Robson, president of the C.D. Howe Institute, gently agreed that changing the census is a mistake but he worried that "the reaction from many opponents risks cementing the government's resolve." Bill's a gentleman who would never approve of potty mouth but that sounds an awful lot like Nancy Ruth warning women's groups to "shut the f--- up" because they're dealing with a pack of vindictive knuckleheads.

Which is fine with me. Let the government's resolve to do the unspeakably stupid be cemented, I say. Sure it will waste money, hurt public policy, hamper business, and make us increasingly ignorant even as information becomes increasingly valuable. But I'll have lots more chances to write about statistical methodology.

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