Statistical Journal of the IAOS

Volume 37 (2021) 1:

Special themes: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemicand Misuse of  statistics: Time to speak out 

The Statistical Journal of the IAOS can be read via the printed version and online via the official statistics website : www.officialstatistics.com. The website offers beyond the on-line versions of the articles also a discussion platform, news and interviews. 

The latest version of the Statistical Journal, of the IAOS, March 2021, Volume 37, no. 1, with as Special Themes:. The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemicand Misuse of  statistics: Time to speak out’ 

See:  https://content.iospress.com/journals/statistical-journal-of-the-iaos/37/1 

This first issue of Volume 37 of the Journal contains some 30 high quality contributions from authors from all over the world. 

The issue starts with six  articles on COVID-19. Official statistics deals in roughly three ways with the pandemic: epidiomelogical focussing on the trends in numbers; the statistics on the socio-economic and more and more also cultural impact on society; and thirdly on the need to examine and adopt procedures for the production and dissemination of  official statistics.

In this issue there are manuscripts on the epidiomelogical and social economic impacts of the pandemic for specific population groups (indigenous people in the US, Canada and Australia and New Zealand) and regions (Kolkata and suburbs in India) as well on the importance of correct basic population data like those from the population census and finally also on anticipating the correct procedures to measurement of the effect of the pandemic in time series as used for simulations and policy making. All these articles are open access. 

The broad interest in the figures and the involvement of many different stakeholders with different agenda’s makes the treatment of COVID-19 statistics and related numbers to a potential source for mis-communicating, misleading and misuse. State leaders are caught on  giving false numbers, intentionally or non-intentional and are even blamed for misleading by close collaborators in communicating the for the population at large important statistics on the pandemic. 

The second section in this issue focusses with five contributions on ‘Misuse of statistics’. This recurrent and evidently very important theme has also been the theme of two events that took place during the last six months. A webinar hosted by the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) on 6 October 2020 as a side meeting to the UN World Data Forum (UN-WDF) and on 22 February 2021 a side meeting to the UN Statistics Committee (UNSC) brought together many voices on this issue, describing specific cases, their impact but also the way this misuse currently is, can and should be treated. Also the seventh discussion at the SJIAOS discussion platform will revolve around this theme. Background for the four statements for this discussion can be found in the five contributions in this issue of the Journal but also in earlier work that has been done in this field. 

All this makes the special section with five articles on Misuse of statistics in this issue even more current, and surely justifies the second part of the title : Time to speak out. 

The issue contains 7 more sections: there are two award winning contributions for the 2020 Young Statisticians Prize, a section with three manuscripts on aspects of Governance in official statistics. In this section a special mention is on ‘Open Data for Official Statistics: History, Principles, and Implementation’ by Shaida Badiee, Eric Swanson, Caleb Rudow (Open Data Watch) who provide a documentary and exhaustive manuscript on Open Data. The next section contains five more articles in the series of manuscripts on the ‘The future role of Official Statistics in the informational ecosystem’. This section in this issue, on Data for Policy, is introduced by a guest editorial by Walter Radermacher (Germany). Nowcasting is the theme of the next section with four manuscripts presented at a technical workshop organized by the Committee of the Chief Statisticians of the United Nations System (CCS-UN). This workshop discussion current practices, identified gaps where additional methodological work is needed, shared successful communication strategies and identified opportunities for collaboration. The section on Nowcasting is introduced by a guest editorial by Steve MacFeely (UNCTAD, Switzerland). The next section on Agricultural Statistics reports with two manuscripts from successful ICAS VIII conference in November 2019 in New Delhi, India. This conference was again a milestone in the exchange of expertise on new developments in agricultural statistics. A further three articles from this conference are expected in the next issue (Vol37, (2021), Nr. 2)  of the Journal. The section on Quality in statistics reports in a first badge of three manuscripts in this issue from the 10th European Conference on Quality in Statistics that was originally planned for 9-12 June 2020 to be held in Budapest Hungary,. Though it was cancelled due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic authors of around 10 papers agreed to prepare their paper as a submission to the Journal. In the next issues more articles planned for this conference will be presented.

Finally four more articles on diverse topics are presented respectively on the Russian Experience in Assessing and Methodology for Analyzing Compliance with SDG Employment Indicators, Statistical disclosure control, Past, Current, and Future Development on  Data Implementation for Price Statistics in Indonesia and finally the quality of meta data in India’s Government Statistics. 

 

The seventh discussion on the SJIAOS discussion centers around statements taken from Volume 37/1: 

https://officialstatistics.com/news-blog/misuse-statistics-time-speak-out 

The seventh discussion focuses on Misuse of Statistics. It aims to centre around comments and contributions around the need for trustworthy information to guide decision making and enable citizens to understand issues that affect their health and livelihoods. 

Misuse of statistics is a phenomenon as old a statistics it self. Regulatory systems like the Fundamental Principles for Official Statistics, statistical laws and rules for ethical behavior of statisticians aim to avoid and whenever needed correct forms of misuse of statistics. The data revolution, new data sets (Big Data) and open data all cause an even more complex society with an increasing number of stakeholders that is supposed to comply with these official statistics quality and behavioral requirements. In times of crisis like we are now in at a  world-wide scale, ‘invites’ even more than in normal times those who have an interest in specific figures to massage, manipulate or even falsify information. The impact of misuse of statistics or false statistics is apparent.

All this makes a discussion on Misuse of statistics even more current, and surely justifies the second part of the title : Time to speak out. 

Discussion can be held at a theoretic level. However, reality is much harder and ask for very strong leadership and support mechanisms to prevent misuse. The many and almost unstoppable list of occurrences shows that the commitment from policy makers is most relevant and cannot even in developed countries not always be trusted. Any situation also in developed countries shows that the use and misuse of statistics is an issue that is occurring. 

Background for the statements for this discussion can be found in the five contributions in this issue of the Journal but also in earlier work that has been done in this field. This recurrent and evidently very important theme has also been the theme of two events that took place during the last six months. A webinar hosted by the International Association for Official Statistics (IAOS) on 6 October 2020 as a side meeting to the UN World Data Forum (UN-WDF) and on 22 February 2021 a side meeting to the UN Statistics Committee (UNSC) brought together many voices on this issue, describing specific cases, their impact but also the way this misuse currently is, can and should be treated.  

Statement 1

An important part of current inconveniences in governmental policies is based on an erroneous (intentional and non-intentional) interpretation of data and statistics due to a lacking statistical literacy of users of statistics and an insufficient awareness and responsibility of the providers of statistical information to sufficiently inform and when needed correct the users about the characteristics of the statistical information. 

Statement 2.

New data sources (big data) and methodologies (artificial intelligence, algorithms) and the growth of the number of people and organizations involved in producing and using statistics create the need for an increased awareness of misuse of statistics. The current regulatory systems in use are not known and/or sufficiently communicated to the new societal groups involved in producing and using statistics. The official statistics community has until now, unconsciously neglected the damaging side-effects of these new sources and methodologies on the trustworthiness of the profession. 

Statement 3.

The (self-) regulatory system based on the Fundamental Principles, statistical laws etc, no longer is sufficient to guard for misuse of statistics by policy and decision makers. A widening of the awareness for the impact of misuse has to be strived for via an active participation of ‘official statistics’ organizations in warning for and publishing situations of misuse. 

Statement 4

These developments demand from the UNSC as guardian of ‘official statistics’ an independent and  systematic approach for classifying, register and publish types of misuse and how to react on. Such an approach should be based on characteristics of the ‘misused statistics’, the aim of the communication (intentional - non-intentional)  as well as on the characteristics of the people and organizations that ‘misuse’.  The model can also inform a discussion about what needs to be changed at the level of international/supranational arrangements, whether concerning institutional settings, processes, or legal and ethical frameworks, affecting the production of official statistics.

 Statement 5

A movement towards full recognition of the damaging effect of misuse of statistics  and its origins and forms needs to be triggered as it was generated with the movement that led in the nineties of last century to the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. Such a movement needs to embrace a new culture of thinking about ethics in statistics and the role statistics play in our society. 

This discussion is on line, with specific statements since the 22nd of February 2021. See www.officialstatistics.com 

 

Several other discussions are also on line. On the impact of Covid-19 see especially:  https://officialstatistics.com/news-blog/official-statistics-methods-need-investments-be-robust-enough-maintain-sufficient-product 

The first set of statements in the special discussion on the SJIAOS discussion platform focused on the roles of Official Statistics in the context of the COVID-19 crisis. It stated the important role that official statistics will have to play in the phase of world-wide recovery from the pandemic and the rapid investments and actions that are needed to fulfill properly this role. With this  second set of statements we want the discussion to focus now on the impact of the pandemic on statistical methodology and especially the effect the of the strong economic downturn on techniques and time series data used for estimations in now- and forecasting. 

Second set of statements: Official Statistics in the context of the COVID-19 crisis;  

Official statistics methods need investments to be robust enough to maintain sufficient product quality in times of economic downturns 

Official statistics has not properly researched and understood how its methods and models behave at times of downturns (and potentially in the corresponding situation of similarly paced (unpredictable and fast) growths – though these seem to be infrequent compared to downturns). There is generally a wish to make methods robust to unusual changes, but these are often tackled situation by situation. Production of official statistics during COVID-19 has necessitated some radical changes in both data collection and statistical methods; these have been introduced with admirable speed and dedication, but this process would have been made easier with a body of research already in place to draw from.

This discussion on the SJIAOS discussion platform is based statements extracted from the article ‘Robust official business statistics methodology during COVID-19-related and other economic downturns’ by Paul A. Smith and Boris Lorenc (respectively. University of Southampton; Bright Lynx Research; European Network for Better Establishment Statistics). This article is available as blog on https://officialstatistics.com/news-blog/robust-official-business-statistics-methodology-during-covid-19-related-and-other.

 

 covid-19

Pre-release access of official statistics: does it conflict with independence and impartiality?

‘Pre-release access of official statistics’, is the fourth discussion on the discussion platform. Equal access of official statistics to users at the same time is broadly recognised as best practice for adhering to the statistical principles of professional independence and of impartiality and objectivity. The United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics indicate that under the very first principle of “Relevance, impartiality and equal access”. However, practice varies across and within countries, with pre-release practiced widely: pre-release access by government and pre-release access by the press. This is usually justified as enhancing the information for the public when statistics are officially released. However, does even advertised pre-release access by policy makers preclude the possibility of pressure (or the perception thereof) on the independent production of statistics to serve political/policy interests? Is pre-release to government impartial when it gives at least a head start to the party in power relative to its opposition? Does pre-release access by the press adequately protect the level playing field for market participants, and does not lead to profiteering by some? Do the benefits of pre-release outweigh the costs associated with the risks? Is there a need for strengthening the existing movement away from pre-release access and a tightening of the guidelines in codes of practice for official statistics?’

Beyond the Covid-19 and Pre-release articles this very rich issue is built on some 10 different sections. After the contribution on the history of ISI and on the Strategy 2019-2021 for the IAOS, 25 articles deal with a variety of topics ranging from new data sources, fake data, to indicators for SDG’s, informal employment and cross-border data sources for national accounts.

The Statistical Journal of the IAOS

The flagship of the IAOS is the ‘Statistical Journal of the IAOS’. The Journal is expected to be widely circulated and subscribed to by individuals and institutions in all parts of the world.The journal has four regular issues per year, each with in average around 25 articles focussing on current and emerging issues and challenges related to the management, production and use of official statistics and related public policy matters. The ‘Journal’ is available on-line and via a printed publication and is supported by a website. Beyond the link to the on-line version of the Journal the website provides a permanent platform for news, information on events. A main feature of the website is the discussion platform. This discussion platform facilitates in parallel to and based on articles in the Journal discussions on important topics for official statistics.

Submit a paper

The success of the Statistical Journal of the IAOS depends upon the contributions of IAOS members and authors. All papers are subject to anonymous review. For a full description of the publication’s editorial aims and scope, and how to submit manuscripts, go to www.officialstatistics.com or to IOSPress. For more information on the journal in general, submission, review and revision procedures or specific manuscripts, do not hesitate to contact the Editor in Chief, Pieter Everaers at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Papers are expected to be of wide interest to readers. Such papers may or may not contain strictly original material. All papers are refereed. The journal has an Editor-in-Chief who is responsible for ensuring its content and quality. For the review process he is supported by an editorial board of circa 30 eminent official statisticians and for the strategy of the Journal by a small Advisory Board The journal should publish papers of wide interest to both users and producers of official statistics. The journal should encourage papers with a focus on the basic principles for official statistics covering areas such as the importance of applying the best scientific methods, the need for statistical independence, balancing the needs of users with the burden on respondents, the continuing challenges around confidentiality, and the growing need for consistency and coherence across statistical domains and over time and for international comparability.

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IAOS members have unlimited on-line access to all the articles in the SJIAOS, including previous issues.

Members are asked to register themselves at IOS Press (go to the register tab) and once done, to send an email to Ms. Kim Willems (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). She will activate your complimentary access upon receiving your email.

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