Friday, March 09, 2012

Statistical Abstract is No More

The Statistical Abstract has been discontinued due to budget constraints.
"The U.S. Census Bureau is terminating the collection of data for the Statistical Compendia program effective October 1, 2011. The Statistical Compendium program is comprised of the Statistical Abstract of the United States and its supplemental products - - the State and Metropolitan Area Data Book and the County and City Data Book. In preparation for the Fiscal Year 2012 (FY 2012) budget, the Census Bureau did a comprehensive review of a number of programs and had to make difficult proposals to terminate and reduce a number of existing programs in order to acquire funds for higher priority programs. The decision to propose the elimination of this program was not made lightly. To access the most current data, please refer to the organizations cited in the source notes for each table of the Statistical Abstract."
Last summer I thought this was an unwise move, penny-wise and pound-foolish, and while I still think it would be money well spent -- the cost was only $2.9 M/yr, or less than 4 soldier-years in Iraq, per year -- it's not a disaster. I have been noticing lately how easy it has become to get meaningful data from other US government agencies, such as the Departments of Labor, Commerce, Transportation, the EIA, the Federal Reserve, and the Census Bureau (at least). They have decades of well-organized data you can download right into a spreadsheet, interactive plotting, etc. It's similar with climate data from NOAA, NASA, etc -- you can keep up with the latest monthly (sometimes weekly) data on dozens of quantities, and essentially become an amateur climatologist (one thing I think is fueling the climate debate, as people [including me] read too much into every monthly up or down). These agencies are doing great jobs at making their data timely and accessible, and I expect this will only increase over this decade as documents, books, and sites become alive and carry tables and charts that are automatically updated with new data is available or old data is revised.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to remember how anyone got by before the Web was invented. I was telling my nephew that I grew up before anyone had computers in their homes, and I felt like a dinosaur. He doesn't even understand that you used to have to wait for a television program to come on at a certain day and time before you could watch it, instead of just calling it up from the DVR.

1 comment:

Kevin McClure said...

While I agree that government agencies are doing better at providing data, I'd caution against the assumption that all data in the Statistical Abstract was governmental in origin, or that it will all still be findable on the web.

The preface to the last print edition of the Statistical Abstract said that both government and private sources contributed to its mix of data. I checked on what that would mean if we lost the publication, and found out that about 100 of those private sources, which contributed to 179 tables in the book, required copyright permission, meaning that almost 13 percent of the tables in the book were copyrighted. All but a few of those tables were approved for the online version.

That large chunk of copyrighted data will no longer be publicly accessible by any means, short of separately negotiated agreements with those approximately 100 private sources. So Statistical Abstract really is irreplaceable, because no one outside the Census Bureau’s Statistical Compendia Branch is capable of collecting it all without re-establishing all those copyright arrangements — that is, without doing what the Statistical Compendia Branch already did, and did so much better, more efficiently, and more economically than anyone else could.

All this is to say nothing of the hours wasted from this point forward looking in hundreds of places for basic statistical information instead of one place.

Statistical Abstract was a bargain at $3 million a year, and it paid us back on that comparatively miniscule investment many times over.