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Trump’s War on Evidence

US President Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for experts and evidence-based policymaking. Yet by attempting to gut the US Census Bureau and two key agencies within the Department of Agriculture, he is undercutting the data-gathering institutions upon which broad sectors of the US economy rely.

WASHINGTON, DC – Decision-making based on evidence rather than superstition was a driving force behind the Industrial Revolution, and the collection of statistics has, accordingly, become a hallmark of the modern age. In the twenty-first century, businesses and governments alike are finding that data are more valuable than ever.

There are cases where data should be – and, indeed, are – collected by the private sector. But given their broad applications, many data sets are public goods, and thus should be gathered by governments. One of the factors behind America’s economic dominance is that the US government has long collected statistics that are universally regarded as trustworthy and impartial. These data have played an indispensable role in driving innovations in technology, medicine, social policy, and many other fields.

US President Donald Trump’s administration, however, seems to believe that experts and evidence are irrelevant. For example, it has starved the US Census Bureau of funds, precisely when the agency is in the process of conducting the decennial census, as mandated by the US Constitution. An internationally respected institution, the Census Bureau usually benefits from a sharp funding increase in the years leading up to the census (followed by a decrease in the years immediately thereafter). But under Trump, the agency’s budget has been held relatively flat, leaving it without the means to test different survey questions or various cost-saving techniques.

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