I suspect you already know why I think scrapping the long-form census is a terrible idea. Good data is good for society. Done right, statistical research keeps us all honest, forcing us to interact with the world as it actually is, rather than imagining ourselves as part of a reality that is personally or politically convenient. Survey research is plagued with selection bias, and the only institution with the power to gather high-quality data for social science is Statistics Canada. The government’s purported privacy concerns with the long form are justified by a set of preposterous (and ideologically motivated) myths.
But if I’ve been reluctant to argue this at length, it’s because StatsCan has never done much to earn my goodwill. As a journalist interested in statistics, I have come to expect frustration and disappointment when dealing with StatsCan. That’s why I hope that we can take this opportunity to talk about how it could be better—rather than fighting blindly for the status quo.
The most serious problem with Canada’s data authority is access to data, or more accurately, the lack thereof. And all of the restrictions on access, going back many years, have been justified by some extremely strange concerns around privacy. Sound familiar?
It’s been a tough couple of years for the shipping industry. First there was the recession, which led to almost 12 percent of the world’s cargo ships spending last December empty and anchored. The industry has also come under fire by environmentalists for its contributions to climate change and air pollution.
At December’s Copenhagen summit, the group Climate Justice Action (CJA) staged a protest outside the headquarters of Maersk, one of the world’s largest shipping companies. While shipping may be a worthy target—it’s responsible for two to five percent of global CO2 emissions—going after Maersk was a strange choice. Even the CJA’s factsheets acknowledged the company’s green initiatives.
Among other things, Maersk has been developing a long-known but little-used practice called “slow steaming.” When big cargo ships slow down, they can sometimes run more efficiently. While each journey takes longer, the practice cuts CO2 emissions by 10–30 percent, and for the largest vessels it’s equivalent to saving 3,500 tonnes of fuel each year.
The charter school movement is enjoying something of a renaissance in the United States. Charter schools—which receive public funding but are privately run, thus removing some features of normal public schools, notably established teachers’ unions—are one of President Obama’s priorities. They are also the cause du jour for New York City’s hedge fund managers. Education policy wonks are understandably interested in whether charter schools really help students failed by the public system.
I am sceptical about the benefits of private sector involvement in public schools, but I’ve still been watching the debates with some interest. There has not been much research on Canada’s only charters, in Alberta, so most of what I read is from the States. That’s why I came across this post on Eduwonk.
Welcome to Margin of Error. Each month, I will be picking apart some number or statistical problem in the news or on my mind. I will draw on my own modest knowledge of econometrics — the statistics of economics, lately being applied to all kinds of problems — and interview the occasional expert. If you spot a questionable number that you’d like me to pick apart, send a tip to marginoferror (at) this (dot) org.
Thanks to midterms, university students across the country are too busy to read this. That’s probably just as well, because I’m here to share a story that might upset them — the degrees they are cramming for probably aren’t worth as much as they think.