Hermann Habermann Lectures at the HSE on the Problems of Developing Statistics
Mr. Habermann shared his views on the problem of trusting official statistics. He stated that above all national statistical agencies should function transparently; they should be open for the state, its citizens, and the media to question the methodologies used and the quality of the research. While making decisions, these agencies should be guided by professional criteria, not current state policy or an affiliation with any political groups. Even if an agency is conducting a research project whose results are sensitive for society, such as unemployment research, and the results can affect government policy, decisions should still be based only on professional analysis. Agencies should provide people with actual figures, disregarding the possible consequences of implementing the policy.
Agencies can also use special techniques to increase people’s trust in official statistics, such as a ‘statistics calendar’ that discloses in advance the dates research results are to be released. The publication dates should be approved by an agency head, not officials, and the methodology should be verified by scientists and invited experts.
Mr. Habermann admits that it is rather difficult to win people over, especially when they believe that the government is in collusion with the researchers providing the statistics. The researchers shouldn’t ignore these negative sentiments, as the chosen methodology doesn’t always reflect the situation of the complaining segment of the population. It’s obvious that all the researchers try to minimize effort and expense. Nevertheless, it is usually safer to use several sources while collecting statistics. Besides, if the research is delayed, certain adjustments must be made so that the research results will be accurate.
According to Mr. Habermann, official statistics gathered by state agencies have long dominated, but now non-governmental organizations and private corporations are successfully collecting statistical data and conducting research. But, in order to develop statistics, private and governmental organizations should not compete, but cooperate with each other. That way, people won’t have to guess which results are accurate. This is especially important now, when the Internet is widespread,when the issue of which sources are credible is particularly topical.
During his lectures at the HSE, Mr. Habermann pointed out changes anticipated in the field of statistics in the next 15-20 years, and how national statistical agencies should prepare for these changes. He also explained the specifics of the USA statistical system, focusing on its decentralized character and the problem of building cooperation and trust between the system’s links. He believed that such details would interest his Russian audience members because in Russia similar problems exist and slow down the development of a national statistical system.
Maria Glazyrina, third-year student at the HSE Faculty of Law, HSE News Service