News of the WeekU.S. Census

Asking the Right Question Requires Right Mix of Science and Politics

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Science  09 Apr 2010:
Vol. 328, Issue 5975, pp. 158-159
DOI: 10.1126/science.328.5975.158

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The two-page census form mailed out last month to every household in the United States asks for basic demographic information. The second arm of the census, called the American Community Survey (ACS), is a monthly sampling of 3 million households a year that asks residents 75 questions about everything from their incomes and disabilities to how long it takes them to get to work. The contents of the short form seldom change, but the ACS is a living document. So the procedure for determining its content can have a big impact on what information is collected. Watching anxiously from the sidelines are the social science and survey research communities that rely upon the data. They hope that the new procedures for determining which questions get asked, still being ironed out, will be well defined and more transparent.