In DepthSocial Science

Building a cheaper, better census

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Science  08 Aug 2014:
Vol. 345, Issue 6197, pp. 608
DOI: 10.1126/science.345.6197.608

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Field tests in the next 12 months will be critical to an ambitious effort by the U.S. Census Bureau to hold down the cost of the country's next head count, set for 2020. These efforts, aimed in large part at increasing the percentage of people who fill out the questionnaire at the first opportunity, are keys to success, Census Director John Thompson said last week at an international conference on innovative census methods held in Washington, D.C. Censuses have been an important tool for governments ever since the Roman Empire used them to identify military conscripts, and statistical experts spent 2 days swapping ideas on how to conduct reliable counts on tight budgets. They also offered cautionary tales of how outside events can disrupt the best-laid plans.