Friday, Dec 15, 2017
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EDITORIAL

Less data cannot be good

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President Donald Trump's administration has not released sufficient data to help policy-makers steer toward the best solutions.

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While President Trump often speaks about how much his administration has done, Philip Bump at the Washington Post is keeping tabs on all the things it has undone, in information gathering. 

Many federal programs collected data on issues of Americans’ health and safety and now are collecting less. 

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But there is no good argument for knowing less about these complex topics, especially when our legislative bodies rely on research to shape policy. 

Here are some of the numbers Americans cannot know under Mr. Trump: health effects of mountaintop-removal mining, oil and gas company payments to foreign governments, employer records of workplace injuries, safety issues at chemical plants, and government contractor labor law violations. 

Mr. Bump’s list is far from comprehensive, as it does not include cuts made outside of the legislative process. According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the 2016 Crime in the United States report — the first released under President Trump’s administration— contains close to 70 percent fewer data tables than the 2015 version did. 

Among the data missing from the 2016 report is information on arrests, the circumstances of homicides (such as the relationships between victims and perpetrators), and the only national estimate of annual gang murders. Wouldn’t this lack of data undermine the President’s goal of fighting violent crime?

Mr. Trump’s head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, has dismissed half of the organization’s Board of Scientific Counselors — specifically those who had received EPA grants.  And recently, the President and Congress have blocked the construction of a new polar satellite after one of them broke down. These satellites are vital to NASA’s mission of measuring the rate of  ice melt in the Arctic, and the remaining three are old and need replacing. 

Whatever one’s political beliefs, most Americans agree that policy decisions should be guided by the best available evidence. Without little or no information, policy-makers fly blind.

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