EDITORIAL

Science matters for the census

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Science  23 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 847
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3285

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  • Unscientific census

    In their warning against politicizing of the national census, Groves and Murdock claim that “the [census] process has been protected from political interference and propelled forward by allegiance to scientific norms”, and they implore for things to remain the same (1). This is a disconcerting plea, given the striking falsehood of both assertions.
    The census has a long history of political interference (2), which the authors ignore. One glaring example is the White House directive to include the dubious, politically assigned Hispanic self-identification in the 1970 census (3). This became a binary choice of ethnicity in US Census. It is hardly a model of “objective measurements, tested through years of randomized experiments”, as asserted by the authors.
    In fact, the constitutional mandate to count “the whole number of persons in each State” (4) was politically adulterated with the very first census of 1790, when “(free) whites” were counted separately from others. That classification was based on political and social, not scientific, norms. Yet, “white” has persisted as a census category for 230 years, serving as an unchallenged variable for countless pseudoscientific projects, despite fluid inclusion/exclusion of different populations within that category over time. Which scientifically valid conclusions can be glimpsed from whites’ mortality data, when “white” in USA denotes any light-skinned person from numerous genetic clusters throughout the wor...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.
  • Cyber risk scores play a key role in the census

    Robert M. Groves et al. wrote an article entitled "Science matters for the census," (1). US government stated that the Census Bureau has several policies to ensure the data we collect is protected and your privacy is respected (2). Although the security of data has been emphasized, the massive data leak was reported (3). The company Alteryx Inc. accidentally made public a file that contained the personal information of 123 million American households (3). The U.S. has 126 million households in all, according to the Census Bureau (3). The database contained information across 248 categories, including addresses, phone numbers, mortgage ownership, age, ethnicity and personal interests such as whether a person is a dog or cat enthusiast (3). Fortunately, the data did not include people's names, Social Security numbers, credit card information or passwords (3). CSTAR cyber risk scores are as follows: U.S. Census Bureau (872), Experian (728), Alteryx (692) (3). Weaker link can be fatal throughout the chain (3).
    We must understand that weaker link of cyber risk scores should be strengthened.

    References:
    1. Robert M. Groves et al., "Science matters for the census," Science 23 Feb 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6378, pp. 847
    2. https://www.census.gov/privacy/
    3. Tracey Lien, "Alteryx data breach exposed 123 million American households' information,"
    ...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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