Presentation on theme: "ISI 2009 Short Course #12 Professional Ethics Part II. Professional Ethics and the work of a National Statistical Office William Seltzer (Fordham University)"— Presentation transcript:
2 Outline of Part II A. Introduction B. General ethical issues not covered in any detail in part II (Assumed they are covered in some detail in part I) C. Ethical issues of special relevance to the work of a national statistical office
3 Introduction: Ethical issues to be covered in some detail Law, policy, and ethics: overlaps, differences, and sources of authority Integrity of the statistical agency and its outputs Use of very out-of-date methods Statistical confidentiality Administration of a statistical agency Prevention and coping strategies and tools
4 Introduction: Mechanics and sources Duration: About 90-120 minutes Breaks: To be decided Questions: After each sub-section One group problem-solving exercise A general bibliography is given beginning at slide # 55 of this PowerPoint presentation.
5 Introduction: Scope of Part II Although the title of part II refers to ethics and the work of a National Statistical Office (NSO), virtually all the principles and views expressed in my presentation refer equally to any governmental statistical agency Accordingly, I will use the terms NSO and government statistical agency interchangeably
6 Introduction: Introductions Please introduce yourselves, saying a few words about your experience, if any, with a national statistical office or government statistical agency. Also say a few words about what you hope to get out of this part of the course. Any questions so far?
7 B. General ethical issues NOT covered in any detail in part II Need to balance conflicting ethical principles Different approaches to ethical norms Need for perspective: not every difference of opinion about methods, analysis, or conclusions is really an ethical dispute Plagiarism Responsibility to cite sources and describe methods and quality
8 1. Need to balance conflicting ethical principles Different ethical principles may conflict with one another For example, in the political field there is often the apparent difficulty of reconciling calls for peace with those for justice There is often no single right way to reconcile conflicting ethical principles
9 2. Different approaches to ethical norms There are several different ways of understanding ethical norms. Three widely recognized approaches are: Deontological (Absolute rules. For example, the 10 Commandments) Utilitarian (For example, the greatest good for the greatest number) Rawlsian (High priority given to social justice)
10 3. The importance of perspective Of course, ethics are important However, not every difference of opinion about methods, analysis, or conclusions is really an ethical dispute Importance of being aware of consequences for many different stakeholders, including the powerless and vulnerable
11 4. Plagiarism One doesn’t take the work of others and pretend you are the originator or author This holds true for the staff and leadership of a national statistical office and for the organization itself
12 5. Responsibility to cite sources and describe methods and quality Good science requires that sources and methods are clearly and fully described and this requirement is reflected in the ethics documents of most professional societies. Of course, NSO outputs are released in a variety ways. The key is to balance need to make information on methods, sources, and quality available to data users in ways that different kinds of users can access.
13 B. General ethical issues not covered in any detail in part II Any questions?
14 C. Ethical issues addressed in some detail in this course 1.Law, policy, and ethics: overlaps, differences, and sources of authority 2.Integrity of the statistical agency and its outputs 3.Use of very out-of-date methods 4.Statistical confidentiality 5.Administration of a statistical agency 6.Prevention and coping strategies and tools
15 1. Law, policy, and ethics: overlaps, differences, and sources of authority When working in a government statistical agency, we have to serve many masters. They include the following persons: i. Your immediate supervisors ii. Their supervisors iii. The agency head (or if you are the head of the agency, the person or committee to which you report)
16 1. Law, policy, and ethics -- continued We must also serve several different kinds of impersonal authorities. They include: i. The law (those explicitly pertaining to statistics and other laws) ii. Government and agency policies iii. Scientific standards (statistical science and relevant subject-matter science) iv. The needs and interests of data users v. Professional ethics (statistical and relevant subject-matter professions)
17 1. Law, policy, and ethics -- continued Sources of authority 1.Statistical policy UN Statistical Commission Eurostat 2. Statistical ethics Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics ISI Code of Professional Ethics Ethical standards of various national statistical professional societies
18 1. Law, policy, and ethics -- continued Usually, the dictates of the law, sound scientific standards, agency policies, the instructions of supervisors, and ethics all point in the same direction At times, however, these personal and impersonal masters may be in conflict and pull us in different directions Note that simply following the law or following orders is no excuse for all sorts of crimes, including human rights crimes, such as genocide
19 1. Law, policy, and ethics -- concluded Can any of you cite an example in your career where you or the agency in which you worked had to deal with conflicts among two or more of these authorities? How were the issues addressed or resolved? Any questions?
20 2. Integrity of agency and outputs (a)Policy (b) Staffing (c) Fixed release dates (d) Suppression of results
21 2. Integrity of agency and outputs: (a) Agency policies Agency policies should be based largely on statistical and substantive grounds taking into account political priorities (broadly defined) Be guided by the interests of the full range of data users and the responding public Resist efforts to let short-term partisan political priorities drive policy decisions on structure, staffing, methods, and outputs
22 2. Integrity of agency and outputs: (b) Staffing Qualifications and experience Professional outlook and sense of responsibility Broadly reflecting the diversity of the country Identification with the agency and the statistical profession Nevertheless, the hiring of otherwise qualified political referrals is ok
23 2. Integrity of agency and outputs: (c) Fixed release dates Release dates for politically-sensitive statistical series (for example, release of the consumer price index or the unemployment rate) should be scheduled well in advance This schedule should be adhered to and the release dates for such series should not be determined by short-term political considerations
24 2. Integrity of agency and outputs: (d) Suppression of results Planned statistical outputs should always be released, unless there are strong professional reasons for not doing so If a planned output is not released, a detailed methodological output should be issued in its place, documenting the shortcomings in the planned output and presenting at least summary results Any questions?
25 3. Use of very out-of-date methods The failure to up-date methodologies to take into account evolving scientific understandings or the changed circumstances of the country and its population if delayed too long can become a serious ethical issue We are not talking here about 5 or 10 year delays but those extending to 50 or 100 years Any questions?
26 4. Statistical confidentiality The confidentiality of personal information provided to government statistical authorities during population censuses and similar statistical operations is a well-established principle, at least among statisticians.
27 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued Most sets of ethical norms in the field of statistics base the responsibility for maintaining statistical confidentiality, either explicitly or implicitly, on the grounds that such disclosures may lead to respondent harm.
28 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued For example, the ISI’s Ethics Declaration states, “the information provided shall not be used to harm data providers.”
29 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued And the United Nation’s Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics, in principle 6, defines the concept in these words, “Individual data collected by statistical agencies for statistical compilation, whether they refer to natural or legal persons, are to be strictly confidential and used exclusively for statistical purposes.”
30 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued This same ethical norm has been reflected, at least to some degree, in the confidentiality provisions of census and statistical laws adopted in most countries.
31 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued These laws are of two broad types: (1) those that prohibit disclosures for all types of non-statistical uses, and (2) those that permit disclosures for certain important non-statistical state purposes.
32 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued Note that laws of the first type may permit some disclosures considered as harmless (for example, sharing data among statistical agencies to foster enhanced analytical possibilities). Such strong statistical confidentiality laws adhere closely to the ethical principle that the personal information provided will not be used to harm or target individuals.
33 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued Unfortunately other countries, whether by tradition or in response to perceived national threats, have weaker statistical confidentiality laws that allow for a distinction between authorized and unauthorized disclosures without reference to the issue of individual harm, and only bar the latter.
34 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued To understand the implications of this distinction it is useful to consider how disclosures of personal information provided to census and statistical agencies arise.
35 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued Such disclosures arise from three main sources: 1) inadvertent disclosures (for example, lost laptops or flash drives, enumeration records erroneously put in the general trash, misdirected mail), 2) ad hoc disclosures (for example, those attributable to individual hackers, disgruntled or over-zealous census staff, or gossipy interviewers), and
36 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued 3) targeted disclosures arising from the efforts of government or private sector entities external to the government statistical system to obtain personal information for some non- statistical purpose. The first two sources primarily use what might be termed “back-door” methods of obtaining this information, that is, by means of the unauthorized disclosures prohibited by the confidentiality provisions of the census and statistical acts.
37 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued The third type of disclosure, those arising from the efforts of other governmental agencies to gain access to personal information obtained in the census for non- statistical purposes, generally derive from the use of so-called “front-door” methods, that is, by means of the authorized disclosures permitted under these laws.
38 4. Statistical confidentiality - continued This distinction between “front-” and “back-door” disclosures is important, both from policy and ethical perspectives. Many discussions of statistical confidentiality either ignore this distinction or focus only on methods used to deter “back-door” disclosures.
39 4. Statistical confidentiality - concluded However, it is the “front-door” disclosures that pose the most serious ethical threat to an NSO, having been associated in a number of countries with substantial harm to vulnerable individuals or population subgroups. Such misuse of information obtained by an NSO has negatively impacted census and survey response rates for decades. However, even inadvertent disclosures can have a very negative impact on the reputation of an NSO.
40 5. Administration of a statistical agency Managing the staff and financial resources allocated to a statistical agency imposes a number of ethical obligations on those with managerial responsibilities, from the agency head on down. These ethical obligations are not normally covered in professional ethics statements of statistical societies.
41 5. Administration of a statistical agency -- concluded These ethical responsibilities include: Treating staff fairly and impartially Managing the financial affairs of the agency honestly and in a transparent manner, both with respect to resources provided from the government budget and resources earned by the agency for services or outputs provided Avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest with respect to both personnel and financial management Any questions?
42 Group Problem-Solving Exercise You are each members of a committee of senior staff of your NSO. The committee has been convened by the Director of the NSO to develop a response plan to an emerging threat to the integrity of your office. A senior deputy to a politically-well connected and powerful government minister has telephoned your Director with a request.
43 Group Problem-Solving Exercise - continued The request: Given the expected tightness of the coming elections, the Minister has asked his deputy to request that the release of the latest consumer price statistics, due to be released by your office in two weeks, be postponed for two months, that is, until after the elections. The deputy also indicated that both his boss and the Prime Minister would be very unhappy if this action is not taken.
44 Group Problem-Solving Exercise - continued An alternative request from the Minister’s deputy, if there is a second small group: Given the hostility and threats of possible attack from your neighbor, the country of Freedonia, the NSO is requested to secretly provide to the Minister of Interior a list of the names of all persons born in Freedonia who are living in your capital district and aged from 10 to 40, together with their addresses and other particulars as obtained in the recent population census.
45 Group Problem-Solving Exercise - concluded The goal of your committee is to come up with a set of recommendations to your Director to respond to the request. In developing these recommendations draw on your own experience and readings as well as on anything that seems relevant from materials we have discussed today. You have 15 minutes and one of you from the group should be asked to summarize your recommendations.
46 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools (a) Prevention strategies and safeguards It is helpful to think of prevention strategies under several broad headings. They include: (i) strong laws (ii) close links among government statistical agencies (iii) close links to major user groups and the news media
47 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools – (a) Prevention - continued (iv) Active professional statistical society with membership drawn from academia, business and industry, the non-profit sector, and government (v) Maintain a spirit of openness and transparency with members of all political parties or groups, including both the government and the opposition (vi) Encourage the study and documentation of past threats to the integrity of your NSO and facilitate the dissemination of the results of such studies
48 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools – (a) Prevention - concluded Training sessions within the NSO to help educate staff and leadership about the ethical norms of official statistics With respect to statistical confidentiality there are a broad range of strategies available. They have been documented in several of the papers posted on the website: https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/margo/www/govstat/int egrity.htm https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/margo/www/govstat/int egrity.htm Add further ideas from small group discussion Any questions?
49 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools – (b) Ways of coping When an actual threat to the integrity of an NSO emerges the key defense will be in the contacts previously established among the various groups of data users and other stake holders in a sound, well functioning, and non-political NSO A diverse group of such stake-holders may have political contacts beyond those directly available to the NSO
50 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools – (b) Coping - continued In dealing with the current crisis, document what happened so that in future years the NSO and other statisticians can benefit from both what you did right and what you did wrong In thinking about strategies and responses be mindful not only of the present situations and the challenges presented, but also of the longer-term implications for your NSO and its reputation
51 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools – (b) Coping - continued More serious coping tools: (1)Approaches to the press and other media (open and discrete) (2)Resignation (threats or actual) – by the agency head, senior staff, or mass resignations (3)Deliberate refusal to carry out ethically irresponsible actions (4)Pro-active refusals
52 6. Prevention and coping strategies and tools – (b) Coping - concluded I would stress that the goal of a robust set of prevention strategies is to minimize the need to ever have to consider using these more serious coping tools. I should say that they all have been used over the years, including a census director in the 1890s having census schedules destroyed rather than turning them over to the police. Any questions?
53 Conclusion As I hope has been clear from this presentation, those of us who work in official statistics have a number of important ethical obligations to balance along with our legal and technical responsibilities. There is often no one right answer. That is, we are faced with choices. My goal today has been to help you make these choices as knowledgably and wisely as possible.
54 Thank you A copy of my PowerPoint presentation will shortly be posted on the website: https://pantherfile.uwm.edu/margo/www/gov stat/integrity.htm This website also contains a number of other papers dealing with statistical ethics, particularly statistical confidentiality Also, please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
55 Bibliography for Professional Ethics and the Work of a National Statistical Office AAAS/USORI [American Association for the Advancement of Science/U.S. Office of Research Integrity]. 2000. “The Role and Activities of Scientific Societies in Promoting Research Integrity. A Report of Conference, Washington, DC, April 20, 2000.” September 2000. Available at.www.aaas.org/spp/dspp/sfrl/projects/integrity.htm Anderson, Margo and William Seltzer. 2006. “Discussion of Habermann, ‘Ethics, Confidentiality and Data Dissemination.’” Journal of Official Statistics. 22(4): 641-49.* _______. 2007. "Challenges to the Confidentiality of U.S. Federal Statistics, 1910-1965." Journal of Official Statistics. 23(1): 1-34.* _______. 2009. "Federal Statistical Confidentiality and Business Data: Twentieth Century Challenges and Continuing Issues,“ Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality 1 (Spring), pp. 7-52; Comment on Article by Anderson and Seltzer, by C. L. Kincannon, pp. 53-54; Rejoinder, by M. Anderson and W. Seltzer, pp. 55-58.*
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