Public Data in the Time of Alternative Facts

On January 25, 2017 the Trump Administration mandated that his political appointees review studies or data from scientists at the Environmental Protection (EPA) before they can be released to the public. Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and U.S. Representative Paul Gosar (R-Arizon) introduced bills S. 103 and H.482 respectively in the Congress. These two bills are very similar and are both called the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017 which specify that, “no federal funds may be used to design, build, maintain, utilize or provide access to a federal database of geospatial information on community racial disparities or disparities in access to affordable housing.” Consumers of public data are troubled by these two events. A group of activists have started to save and preserve data from the Federal Agencies’ websites. Andrew Battista’s blog (http://data-services.hosting.nyu.edu/saving-data-preservation-during-political-turmoil/) on January 26, 2017 gave an account of these data rescue efforts. The Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics (COPAFS) issued an Occasional Note (http://www.copafs.org/UserFiles/file/OccasionalNotefromCOPAFS31Jan2017.pdf) on January 31, 2017.  COPAFS’ 300,000 individual researchers, educators, public health professionals, civic groups, and businesses all rely on the quality and accessibility of statistics collected by the federal government. COPAFS and its members will engage new Cabinet appointees in the Trump Administration and members of the 115th Congress by informing and educating them about the value of data gathered by the federal statistical agencies. Meanwhile there is an increasing number of articles written to support public data in our democracy. For example, John Pullinger wrote a wonderful article (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/31/post-truth-statistics-data-facts) in the Guardian to demonstrate the importance of statistics in a “post truth” world.

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