One of the most important and valid sources of national data comes from census data. This provides some of the most comprehensive, reliable and valid research information used by international research bodies, and national public and private institutions, governments and anyone doing research.
The main advantage of census data in many countries is that everyone is required to complete them. Thus, the information is superior in many ways to any university or researcher’s study because of the scope. Census data provides the most complete data in a nation.
Canada’s government has decided to scrap the mandatory census. Ostensibly, the mandatory census has been scrapped to respect privacy. The argument is that requiring people to answer questions about themselves violates their privacy. Although there are ethical concerns with criminally enforcing completion of census forms, an outright disposal of useful research is not the answer.
Even if you have never looked at research results or reports from census data, and wouldn’t have the vaguest interest in them, census data affects many things that will affect you in your daily life.
Most businesses and organizations use census data to inform their business decisions. For example, a college or university will look at where people are working, where employment growth is and what kind of jobs people need training for. For example, every hospital, community, and region needs nurses. How many?
To answer how many nurses a community needs, we need to know how many people in that community. We need to know how many older people there will be and how many babies are likely to be born. We need to know the average amount of injuries, the average amount of accidents. This is just the beginning. We need to know how many nurses there are in this community, and we need to know how many nurses there are in the region, and the country.
Will there be more nurses in other communities that may move to work in the community? Or will there be more shortages in other areas, making it even harder to find and hire nurses?
This is only one example of information a census provides. The number of nurses may affect a hospital, but training institutions need to know this as well. The college or university needs to know how many nurses to train based on these types of data. This data answers the questions: how many nurses will we need? How many spaces should we open in our program? How much should the government fund us for this program.
Almost every business or institution you can think of could make use of this kind of census data. This is useful for looking at current states (for example, number of people unemployed), but also for predicting future trends and looking at patterns.
Yet, the reason census data is so useful is because it is universal. It is the only research that truly represents the country. The Canadian government has just changed the census to be voluntary. Thus, instead of being required to complete a census form, you can do it if you feel like it.
In principle, this may seem like a good thing, but it immediately creates self-selecting bias. This means people select themselves to be part of research instead of being selected. This potentially leads to serious problems with results because certain types of people are more likely to respond than others. Then, instead of representing the entire population, the census represents the groups of people who are most likely to respond.
For example, if a survey’s title is “Reasons I Love Sex”, the survey will tend to get two types of responses. The first, will be people who really do love sex, and will be describing the reasons they do. The second group to respond will be those who are disgusted by the mere mention of the topic, are outraged that it is a topic, and need to make their views known. Unfortunately, almost everyone won’t care, so only a selective group will ever respond to the “sex” survey.
This is an extreme example, but it is true for any survey. A census isn’t just an obligation, but when all members of a nation complete it, it is critical. It provides information about a data that can be used to inform social policies, business decisions and research. Without it, we revert to educated guesswork – at best.