Sunday, July 31, 2005

By the numbers

StatsCan is an absolutely vital piece in our ability to understand the current position of Canada and the people inside it. Which makes stories like this particularly disturbing:
The erroneous data on Canada's 2004 trade in cultural goods, such as CDs and videos, were first placed on the Statistics Canada website March 29.

The agency then posted a correction to the material May 19, and alerted users to the corrected numbers in a website notice five days later...Trouble is, the so-called corrected numbers were themselves incorrect.

By June 10, Statistics Canada had verified that its correction indeed needed correcting.

But internal dithering and red tape prevented the agency from dealing with the problem until June 21, when it finally withdrew the bad numbers from the website and posted an apology...

A spokesman for the agency said the problems began when a programmer developed new software, then left for another job.

A second programmer took over, but "obviously, (the software) was not tested properly," Francois Nault, director of Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics, said in an interview.

While it's a plus to have timely numbers, it's all the more important that they be accurate...and in particular that the current contents of StatsCan's publicly-available material reflect the best current knowledge. This incident suggests that StatsCan currently doesn't have enough coordination either internally, or with the other organizations that gather data.

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