Stephen Gordon hasn’t forgotten about the census.

The census story is a train wreck in slow motion; the latest car to pile on the flaming ruins is the recent report that Statistics Canada has resigned itself to accepting incomplete responses to the National Household Survey (NHS) … The most recent census was in 2006, and it looks as though the next usable census will take place in 2021 at the earliest. Our understanding of what is going on in the Canadian economy in the next decades will grow steadily weaker as more cars pile on the census train wreck.



  1. According to Cyberpresse and as reported here, people who don’t complete the household survey are still contacted by StatsCan – some receive the visit of StatsCan. 


    In the end I wouldn’t be surprised to read that it will cost a lot more money than before to get this information – and that it will be deemed less reliable.

    • I’ve had 4 phonecalls so far, and they offered to show up on my doorstep to ‘pick it up’…or I could answer ‘over the phone’.

  2. “The census is an invisible — and yet essential — element of virtually all the data that inform policy debates.” 

    Why should we care what social scientists want when they don’t know what they are doing?

    Perhaps Prof Gordon can explain why he, and others, think it is clever to coerce people to provide info they are not comfortable supplying in order for social scientists to pretend they are proper scientists.

    Maybe when pols have fewer phony stats devoid of context, and stop listening to social scientists, Government performance will improve immeasurably.

    In early 2009, the United States was engaged in an intense public debate over a proposed $800 billion stimulus bill …. Buchanan, Edward Prescott, Vernon Smith, and Gary Becker, all Nobel laureates in economics, argued that while the stimulus might be an important emergency measure, it would fail to improve economic performance. Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, on the other hand, argued that the stimulus would improve the economy and indeed that it should be bigger. 

    Fierce debates can be found in frontier areas of all the sciences, of course, but this was as if, on the night before the Apollo moon launch, half of the world’s Nobel laureates in physics were asserting that rockets couldn’t reach the moon and the other half were saying that they could. 

    Prior to the launch of the stimulus program, the only thing that anyone could conclude with high confidence was that several Nobelists would be wrong about it. But the situation was even worse: it was clear that we wouldn’t know which economists were right even after the fact.


    PJ O’Rourke, Eat The Rich ~ All statistics are outdated. They are the record of a certain arbitrary moment, and by the time that record is processed and printed, it is, in effect, your senior class picture in the high school yearbook and you’re very embarrassed by last fall’s hairstyle.

    • What you write above that isn’t completely wrong is largely irrelevant.

      Keep up the good work.

      • “The larger lesson of the Gould-Morton affair is that bias is everywhere, that many of our studies are shot through with unconscious errors and subtle prejudices …. In recent years, it’s become clearer that these psychological shortcomings are a serious societal problem. 

        Because we believe we’re impervious to bias—we’re blind to our own blind spots—we assume that our judgment isn’t affected by financial incentives or personal opinions …. What this depressing research demonstrates is that the only way to get objective data is to have institutions that assume objectivity doesn’t exist.”


        “Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush. Gross also found that 25 percent of sociologists characterize themselves as Marxists, likely a higher percentage than members of the Chinese Communist party. I would guess that if Lenin were around today he would be teaching sociology and seeking grants to fund the revolution. ”


        • “many of our studies are shot through with unconscious errors and subtle prejudices…”

          “Neil Gross of Harvard found that 87.6 percent of social scientists voted
          for Kerry, 6.2 percent for Bush. Gross also found that 25 percent of
          sociologists characterize themselves as Marxists…”

          So first you insist that we can’t trust data produced by studies since they’re filled with bias and prejudice. As evidence, you quote a study cited by a rightwing billionaire, writing in a rightwing publication that’s griping about supposed leftwing media bias.

          Does the cognitive dissonance ever start to bother you or are you completely impervious?

          • Does the cognitive dissonance ever start to bother you or are you completely impervious?

            That’s funny, TJ Cook. Neither one bothers me because I am quite aware that all humans suffer from contradictions and ignorance. You on other hand, have no such knowledge. 

            I provide links to actual experts who study things and put together argument. You write vacuous assertions like you are expert and provide no data, facts or anything. 

            Instead of flapping you gums about right wing billionaires have a look at actual study yourself – it’s online and easily found – and see why I am comfortable citing it. 

            Jane Addams ~ The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself. 

          • It’s hilarious that you’re using statistics to prove that collection of statistics is bogus and unnecessary. Cognitive dissonance FTW!

          • Priceless. Let’s recap:

            1) We can’t trust studies because they’re full of bias,

            2) As evidenced by this study.

            3) And if you would go find this study and read it, you would find it’s an exception to my first point, so you are ignorant.

            4) It’s immoral to make an exception of yourself.

            Is there somebody there who could explain this to you? You really seem to be in over your head.

          • Charlie Sheen – ‘Winning’.   This is where you’re at Tony.

    • The arbitrary nature of statistics is what makes the consistency of their gathering so important. Its not the *accuracy* of the statistics that economists, policy makers, businesses, and many other organizations put their trust in. Its how this years stats relate to last years, ceteris paribus.

      “Perhaps Prof Gordon can explain why he, and others, think it is clever to coerce people to provide info they are not comfortable supplying in order for social scientists to pretend they are proper scientists.”

      The fact that statistics are instruments for making decisions is what sets the social sciences such as economics apart from the hard sciences. What else are social scientists and policy-makers supposed to work with? An ideological framework that should be applied universally without concern with data?

      • “What else are social scientists and policy-makers supposed to work with?”

        Maybe they could get proper jobs, or study proper topics, and then we wouldn’t have to have Government operate a welfare program for witless social scientists who don’t actually know what they are doing. 

        Over many decades, social science has groped toward the goal of applying the experimental method to evaluate its theories for social improvement. Recent developments have made this much more practical, and the experimental revolution is finally reaching social science. 

        The most fundamental lesson that emerges from such experimentation to date is that our scientific ignorance of the human condition remains profound. Despite confidently asserted empirical analysis, persuasive rhetoric, and claims to expertise, very few social-program interventions can be shown in controlled experiments to create real improvement in outcomes of interest.


        PJ O’Rourke ~ 

        “The second item in the liberal creed, after self-righteousness, is unaccountability. Liberals have invented whole college majors–psychology, sociology, women’s studies–to prove that nothing is anybody’s fault.”

        “The complexity of economics can be calculated mathematically. Write out the algebraic equation that is the human heart and multiply each unknown by the population of the world.”

        • From your link:

          “It is tempting to argue that we are at the beginning of an experimental
          revolution in social science that will ultimately lead to unimaginable
          discoveries. But we should be skeptical of that argument. The
          experimental revolution is like a huge wave that has lost power as it
          has moved through topics of increasing complexity. Physics was entirely
          transformed. Therapeutic biology had higher causal density, but it
          could often rely on the assumption of uniform biological response to
          generalize findings reliably from randomized trials. The even higher
          causal densities in social sciences make generalization from even
          properly randomized experiments hazardous. It would likely require the
          reduction of social science to biology to accomplish a true revolution
          in our understanding of human society—and that remains, as yet, beyond
          the grasp of science.”

          Honestly, I don’t think Mr. Gordon or the majority of social scientists see the “prediction of human behavior” as the basis of their practice. I suppose it is fitting that a ‘chairman of an applied artificial intelligence software company’ would be so concerned with prediction and control of human beings.

          Thinking of human agency as a “casual density” that can be reduced with experimentation in a manner not qualitatively different than in biology and physics is troubling in my mind, and also seems to go against the gist of your personal creed. Maybe you should proof read your sources before plastering them on a comment board as part of a hackneyed, flippant response.

          • Human behaviour may never be entirely understood, who knows, but scientists and social scientists who actually study brain are much more useful than left wing types who dominate social sciences now. 

            I attended Canadian university and know full well our social scientists are at least as bad as the Americans. 

            As Thomas Sowell has argued, building a scholarly reputation requires finding a niche that no one else has explored—often for good reason. 

            I am hard pressed to explain why sometimes exquisitely esoteric interests should be supported by taxpayers: This expertise certainly does not match the educational needs of students. (Full disclosure: The book that established my scholarly reputation is titled Marx and Wittgenstein: Social Science and Social Praxis.)


            Steve Pinker  ~  Why do people believe that there are dangerous implications of the idea that the mind is a product of the brain, that the brain is organized in part by the genome, and that the genome was shaped by natural selection?

          • You attended one university, so you can apply that brush to over 100 schools. Good work, champ.

          • What should monetary policy be based on Tony – a wing and a prayer?

          • “What should monetary policy be based on Tony – a wing and a prayer?”

            Philip Tetlock, a research psychologist at Berkeley, tested the accuracy of 82,361 predictions made by 284 experts including psychologists, economists, political scientists, and area and foreign policy specialists, 96 percent with post-graduate training.

            He found that their prognostications did not beat chance.


          • How is sociobiology more useful than the social sciences?

            And lets narrow this term down some (economics, sociology, history and geography?). What do you achieve with a natural science of humanity in the first place other than a science of human control?

          • For one who claims to be so concerned about bias, you think you’d stop reading the weekly standard.

          • Hear hear.  I’m not sure he reads very much of it.  He seems to be a headline cowboy.

        • Tracking traffic patterns is the work of the devil – is that it Tony?

        • “And lets narrow this term down some (economics, sociology, history and geography?). What do you achieve with a natural science of humanity in the first place other than a science of human control?”

          I wish we could return to time that Taylor describes but that’s not going to happen unless something cataclysmic occurs to society. 

          So if society has decided that we should control and manipulate one another, than lets not do it half assed like we are now. 

          As just one example, I saw interview with Jane McGonigal the other week and she was fascinating. Stop with programs that don’t do anything but waste money. Transfer money to poor who need it – guarantee an income – and stop trying to improve people because it doesn’t work. Much of bureaucracy is middle class welfare/jobs program that costs enormous amount of money for little return. 

          Author Jane McGonigal on how reality is broken and video games can fix it.


          AJP Taylor: 

          “Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country for ever without a passport or any sort of official permission. He could exchange his money for any other currency without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police.”


          • Nurse!!!

    • Because in the land of the blind (you & me) the one eyed man is king.

      They may not be perfect, but if you bothered to read the entire article you continually cite, you’d note that even it says “we need to keep stumbling forward with trial-and-error learning as best we can.”

      Well.. guess what, if we don’t get any facts at all, we can’t even see the errors that the trials create.

      You seem to be working under some completely naive assumption that without facts, government will stop trying to modify things.  In fact, it is the reverse, only with the accumulation of facts does the government figure out that it should back the hell off.

      • Following Dan Ariely (spelling unsure) on The Agenda this week?  Interesting guest….

  3. Perhaps Mr. Gordon shouldn’t have endorsed these clowns, then.

      • Sorry.  My bad.  I forget that newspapers aren’t monoliths.

  4. When one goes against established methodlogical facts despite overwhelming public and professional opposition, it can only be said that you are governing your actions by ideology.

    And so one is left to wonder: How does this benefit the CPC and its base?

    The most obvious thing I can think of, is that it muddies the waters and allows for the massaging of data and increases their ability to debate actions and outcomes.

    There’s nothing honest about that.

  5. It was pretty obvious at the time what the Conservatives were trying to do. 

    How so many journalist and pundits could say they didn’t understand why the government would make such a decision is mind-boggling (to put it nicely).

    • I still don’t think its obvious.  The CPoC is supposed to be pro-business. A very large segment of the business community uses this data, and will therefore be damaged if it is inaccurate.  And Tony Adams is a dipstick.

      • Good point but it’s my belief this wasn’t about what the Conservative Party wanted, this was about what Stephen Harper wanted and Stephen Harper is first and foremost pro-stephen harper. He now has the ability to mold Canada to his ideology and liking with less resistance.

        • I think the pro-Harper forces won out over all else on this one.  I recall Mark Carney making the case for not degrading the data collection.  If he couldn’t pesuade Harper, who could?

      • It’s entirely obvious. The CPC is supposed to be a lot of things. The only problem that we’re having is that the journalists and pundits refuse to call a spade a spade, and point out that the CPC’s primary goal is to maintain control. All else, including ideology, is secondary.

  6. Fail.  You don’t need a census to ensure a sample is a representative sample, either for inflation or for employment.

    And suppose you are measuring inflation – as long as the selection of goods is varied, then it will give an accurate picture of the rise in prices. It’s not really important what the rise of prices in any specific good may be, what’s more important is the average rise over a wide variety of goods, and you don’t need a census to constitute a decent sampling.

    Similarly for employment – standard polling sampling methods will result in representative samples.

    It’s standard leftist thinking. They believe they need to intrude in our lives for our own good. And who decides what is our own good? Not us. They do. Of course. And then they bang the drum to claim what a disaster it is that they cannot forcibly gather whatever details they choose. Who decides what details are required? Not us. They do. Of course.

    • There you have it, folks: statistics are bullsh*t and the census a leftist plot.

      • Everything is a leftist plot to Cons….science, education, a census…..even though a census has been around for thousands of years.

      • If statistics were bullshit I would not have a statistics degree.

  7. One question that bothers me about the Census debacle comes from a comment by Warren Kinsella, where he cautions that this is not an issue to fight the Conservatives on.  By Warren’s reckoning (at the time), the average Canadian cares more about whether a specific census question is too prying or personal than whether the overall census serves a useful purpose for marketers and researchers.  That led me to my own question:

    Did the Conservatives scuttle the Census simply to create a political backlash which they knew would gain them votes?  Did they feel that the majority of the population would care more about one or two personal questions than the accuracy of the data, and kill this respected international data-gathering system just to rake in a few more votes in the 905 region?

    • Warren’s wrong on this one.  And last year when the issue was in the news it actually moved the CPoC poll numbers down for awhile.  It simply isn’t a MAJOR issue for most people.

      Plus, as I’ve noted previously, the move was widely (but politely) opposed in the business community.  All sorts of letters and pleas went out on company/association letterhead.  The point of these was not to “fight” the Tories; it was to get them to reverse what was universally and genuinely felt to be a bad decision.

      • The business community’s opposition to the census decisions do not rule out the possibility that the census crisis was created simply to gain votes.  Nor does the fact that their polling numbers fell at the time (they may have miscalculated the public’s response, perhaps not guessing that Munir Shiek would resign, or that business groups would so publicly oppose the decision). 

        OTOH, it could’ve just been a typical Clement decision based on the notion that “math is hard” or something, and for some reason smarter people than he did not win the argument in caucus.

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