The Rightwing War on the Census Rolls On

For those of you not who don’t occasionally dive into the nether regions of the conservative movement, over the last decade, there has been a rightwing assault on the Census. No, really:

By now, you might have heard about the House Republicans’ vote to defund the detailed U.S. Census–surveys which have existed for two centuries, in one form or another. If you haven’t:

The House voted Wednesday to eliminate the detailed surveys of America that have been conducted by the Census Bureau since the nation’s earliest days.

House Republicans, increasingly suspicious of the census generally, advanced a measure to cut the American Community Survey. It passed 232 to 190.

The survey is not part of the constitutionally mandated population count, but some version of it has been done by law as part of the decennial survey since the time of Thomas Jefferson to assess the needs of the nation. It’s generally considered a vital tool for business.

Republicans, acknowledging its usefulness, attacked the survey as an unconstitutional invasion of privacy, arguing that the government has no business knowing how many flush toilets someone has, for instance.

“It would seem that these questions hardly fit the scope of what was intended or required by the Constitution,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), author of the amendment.

“This survey is inappropriate for taxpayer dollars,” Webster added. “It’s the definition of a breach of personal privacy. It’s the picture of what’s wrong in Washington, D.C. It’s unconstitutional.”

These are the same Republicans who have no problem with the massive surveillance state. At this point, it’s practically legal for the NSA to stick a spy satellite up your ass. No problem with the massive data mining by corporations of your internet use–and which can then be sold on to the government (there are security companies that do this, so I should probably write is, not can). All of this with virtually no oversight or control.

But, no, the real threat is an anonymous survey that provides useful information for businesses, local and state governments, and policy makers. A survey which has asked these supposedly intrusive questions for decades. That is the cold, dead hand of totalitarianism.

I’ve given up on even marginal consistency by movement conservatives, so I’m not surprised at all. But what we are witnessing is government by paranoiacs: faced with real threats to our privacy and freedom, conservatives are fixated on the Census. It is every bit as insane as the fear of light bulb vigilantes or any of the other Agenda 21 paranoia.

Well, don’t let anyone tell you that Benghazi was a distraction–they still have their eyes on the really important stuff (boldface mine):

A proposal to drop a question about college education from a large annual government survey would make it a lot harder for the National Science Foundation (NSF) to track trends in the U.S. scientific workforce. Social scientists hope to persuade the Obama administration to reject the idea, which stems in part from criticism of the survey by some members of Congress….

Each year, the Census Bureau uses the American Community Survey (ACS) to collect housing and demographic information from some 3.5 million people. The ACS debuted in 2005 as a way to keep track of national trends that occur between the decennial census, a tally of every household in the country. Many federal agencies and private firms use the ACS data to track trends and plan programs. NSF, for example, uses the question that has been proposed for elimination—which asks respondents to identify their college major—to create a sampling pool for a more detailed survey that illuminates trends in the science and engineering workforce.

But some members of Congress dislike the ACS. They believe the government has no business asking Americans about the number of flush toilets in their homes or when they leave for work in the morning, or even how much they earn. Some legislators have gone even further, arguing that the 72-question ACS should be drastically shortened or even eliminated because it’s an unnecessary burden on the public.

In response to that criticism, the Census Bureau this year carried out the first stem-to-stern review of the survey. A review panel graded each question on two key criteria: Did a law or regulation require the government to collect that information? And how much time and effort did it take to answer? The bureau also tried to measure the value of the information to the federal government and the broader audience of users.

Seven questions scored low enough to be axed from the survey beginning in 2016, the bureau announced on 31 October in the Federal Register. Six of the choices appear to be uncontroversial—five questions pertain to a person’s marital status, and a sixth asks residents whether there is a business or medical office on their property. (Update: Some social science groups are unhappy that these questions have been targeted.)

And then there’s the bureau’s decision to flag Question No. 12, which asks respondents who have completed college to list their undergraduate major. (Question No. 11 asks people about their level of education, from no schooling through a Ph.D.) The proposed elimination of that question has struck a nerve with the U.S. statistical and social science research community, and with the thousands of organizations that cite the data for their own purposes. There is a bipartisan political consensus that the country needs more tech-savvy workers, they say, and Question No. 12 is the most comprehensive, timely, and cost-efficient way to collect the data that policymakers need to achieve that goal.

I realize it’s not Science’s style, but it’s not “some members of Congress”, it’s Republican members of Congress.

Movement conservatism should not be thought of as an ideology, but a mass communicable psychotic break.

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