I was reading through some information given to us via the 2020 census as well as certain releases from the government on Covid-19 cases. All of the consumed information started a domino effect in my mind about the major differences between statistical studies and opinionated academic writing. Similarities abound in both publications, but how does one stand apart from the other in terms of your typical necessities when discussing communication ethics?
Ethics, source credibility, and accuracy are all essential components of any kind of publicly presented material. Those key components apply to journalistic articles, scholarly journals, governmental reports, and more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a subsidiary part of the Department of Labor, produces reports that reach a broad audience of many different types of people. These reports fall under the same scrutiny as a normal journalistic piece. The BLS releases several reports a year regarding the labor forces in the United States, economical changes based on pricing, and work conditions in all fields. Each year, the BLS produces a report on the federal minimum wage and how many people fall under that category of pay. Reports filled with data and numbers must still uphold the principles of accuracy, credibility, and ethics.
The BLS works in cohesion with the Census Bureau to access a monthly survey conducted nationally called the Current Population Survey. The survey is filled out by approximately 60,000 households each month. The survey asks questions about the residents regarding age, income, and education level. The BLS then takes that data and analyzes it using economic algorithms to decipher the rates and percentages of minimum wage workers within the United States during any given year.
Even though the annual report is based off statistical data at its core, it is still necessary to make sure every aspect of the report is credible, accurate, and ethically sound. When preparing the report, it is essential to make sure that the data has been sampled and compiled objectively. It is also important to make sure that no data has been altered or changed and is given at face value. This ensures accuracy in all aspects of the presented data.
Thankfully, in this kind of report, given that the data is inherently provided based on responses from people rather than interpreted numbers, it is near impossible to upend any kind of ethical conundrum. The ethical quarries found within reports of this nature lie in the preparation and presentation of the data. If the data is altered, changed, or fabricated in any way, the results will mean nothing. Therefore, it is essential to maintain absolute objectivity and report the numbers at face value.
A report of this nature is inherently credible if the data gathered and presented is done without any alterations. In this specific report regarding minimum wage characteristics, the numbers were gathered by using direct responses from people within the United States. As previously mentioned, the data is collected through a monthly survey sent out to resident households within the fifty states and the District of Columbia. By taking the responses directly from the survey pool and presenting them, this allows the credibility of the numbers to remain factual and neutral.
The employees that help conduct, organize, and analyze the data from the surveys are comprised of economists, statisticians, and mathematicians. The commissioner of the bureau is nominated by the president and then confirmed and regulated by the Senate. With that in mind, the credibility of the information is confirmed through job experience, expert work in the field of study, and appointment by the United States government. No questionable elements exist that might tarnish the data, thus resulting in credible and reliable sources of information.
Unfortunately, one problem with the accuracy of the data is the size of the sampling pool. The BLS mentions this directly in their reports. This specific report says, “Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error. When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, there is a chance that the sample estimates may differ from the true population values they represent. The component of this difference that occurs because samples differ by chance is known as sampling error, and its variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate.” The data is taken from only 60,000 households, which is pale in comparison to the approximate 372 million people in the United States population.
Another problem affecting accuracy is also mentioned in the report. If you look the report, an error in accuracy occurs when samples collected in the surveys are not used. The report indicates that errors in accuracy can occur because, “the failure to sample a segment of the population, inability to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or unwillingness of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the collection or processing of the data.” Given that there can be user error on side of the respondents, the data may also not be accurate if improper information is provided.
A statistical report is usually in lieu of ethical considerations, because the data is presented with full confidentiality and transparency. Unfortunately, it is possible for a discrepancy to appear in the collection of the data. Thankfully, however, the BLS provides several helpful documents and information on their website. Those documents detail how the surveys are sent out to the public, how the information is collected and catalogued, and what happens when the BLS receives the full data. The Census Bureau provides a full transparent policy, and they make everything completely available to the public.
Given that no names or personal information is included in the report, that ethical implication is negligible. Notwithstanding, there is still the ethical conundrum associated with the release of the data. To combat this, the BLS provides the exact numbers provided by the surveys before they were entered into any algorithm or processing system. This helps quell the idea that the numbers might be misinterpreted or fabricated in some way.
The BLS openly says that their reports are mainly targeting economists, active voters, business leaders, jobseekers, investors, students, and teachers. Because of that target audience, many data tables are used in the report to help organize the data and make it more accessible. The data can be confusing to understand at face value, so the tables added as addendum’s to the report allow for a clearer understanding of how the findings were made and analyzed. People working in the economic and investment fields will ultimately benefit from statistical tables.
Changes that could be made to the report are few. The ethical side of the report is sound in its principles and implementation. Data tables are used efficiently. The only change that makes the most sense is providing a more concrete understanding of the workers behind the report. Even though the report says that more than half of the workers are economists and statisticians, the audience is unaware of the exact expertise. Ultimately, this would help increase the credibility of the data to a much higher level. In the report, it already states that the BLS believes the findings to be 90% accurate, and this can be verified once we know the exact expertise of the workers behind that accuracy.
A report that contains statistical data will usually not suffer from the same implications of an opinionated report. In the case of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on minimum wage in 2019, this holds a modicum of truth. The report is credible to a degree but could use more verification of worker expertise. Accuracy is approximated to be about 90% in findings, but the report does a good job of pinpointing why the numbers might be slightly errored. The only ethical implications are centered around the data collection process, but the BLS provides full documentation and clarity on the entire process, including the numbers that were gathered before being analyzed. Included visual aids are supplemental, reinforcing, and arguably essential to the report. This annual report fulfills every necessary principle required to make a report to the public as best as possible in terms of accuracy, credibility, and ethics.