Earlier Public Access to Government Statistical Reports

The Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority, Sir Michael Scholar, has called for a reduction in the time before official UK government statistics are available to the public (from 24 to 3 hours). Instead of allowing ministers to have reports well in advance, enabling them to anticipate or steer public reaction, this would put the public and their officials on a more level footing. Equally important, this modest reform will help put more eyeballs on public statistics at an earlier point in time, enhancing the role that the Internet can play in providing an added source of public accountability. Given my own belief that the Internet is providing a new and independent source of public accountability, a Fifth Estate, in many respects, this is good news.

There will be concerns that the public will misunderstand, and misinterpret statistical reports, unless they are positioned correctly. This does not argue against their timely publication, but for government agencies to provide clear reports, and for agencies and politicians to be better prepared to respond to public comments and to use public comments constructively to stimulate and inform debate over statistical results.

This is reported today in the Times in an article entitled: ‘Restore trust by ending privileged access to official data, says statistics watchdog’. The UK Statistics Authority is an independent, non-ministerial department, that is charged to ‘promote and safeguard the quality of official statistics that serve the public good’. It is new, being set up only in April 2008. Sir Michael Scholar, President of St John’s College, Oxford, has had a distinguished career in the civil service. He took up his appointment as Chair of the UK Statistics Authority in 2008. The article suggests that the Chair sees this move as one of a number of steps to help restore greater public trust in the reporting of government information.

4 thoughts on “Earlier Public Access to Government Statistical Reports

  1. To: Professor William Dutton:

    Your quote, “It is very difficult to obtain a good sense of what influence an individual should realistically expect” cuts to the core. You are, of course, absolutely correct.

    I just finished attending an Internet marketing seminar (over three scattered days within a two week period), and its key message was how you could use technology herself to propel you to the top of the search engines (you, of course, had to buy this bit and that bit of technology to be able to do so) where your message/target/signal would capture the most eyeballs.

    Then there were 25 strategies to convert captured eyeballs to a reduced number of buying eyeballs. Those who actually buy things on the internet.

    This reminded me of what happened when the printing press was invented [Cambridge University Press, 3 volumes “History of Books”] around AD 1470, how obscure writers could have their notions generalized throughout Europe, how sexual content proliferated, and how, eventually, the Victorian reading public created the middle class.

    With this frightful exponential growth of information technologies and information itself doubling every year, perchance the project economy will come online sooner than many of us expected. Its mantra, as I presume you well know, is “We are going from one universe to a universe of one.” I suspect this was purloined from Chemical cell signaling networks in intra-cellular communication with both negative (four species of signals delineated) and positive (three species of signals) feedback [Science, 17 October 2008 “Feedback Loops Shape Cellular Signals in Space and Time” authors Onn Brandman and Tobias Meyer].

    I think we are still several decades away from a direct linkage between ‘information’ and ‘energy’ [or, in human social context, cash]; presently, our James Miller’s model [“Living Systems”] is still painfully in play. Information is the mirror of energy-matter matrix; she regulates or controls this interchange between energy and matter.

    Strangely enough this was caught by the late Egyptian lector priests [Eg. Kheri-Heb] or ‘scientific’ magicians [1st century BCE to 5th Century ACE] in their two knowledge conclusions: Knowledge is power & Nature feeds nature! [They were scientific, since they had mastered Neo-platonism and astute mathematics, why they were considered spiritual men.]

    So with all this said, it confirms the stark truthfulness of your thesis, the Fifth Estate or the participatory democracy. As humans we are elements connected to a node connected to a hub connected to a master data server. But as these insignificant elements, we do make feedback (negative or positive or both) which in time will alter the complete system as it evolves technically to handle our evolving local-global self-consciousness, and, thusly, perforcely, enhance the experience of our humanity! It will, also, keep us alive as our numbers swell to 9 billion humans on this planet (a frightful thought to us twins who are 61 years old 07/23/47).

    My brother and I wish to thank you for your kindness and courtesy in responding to our errant message to you. Excellent success for this timely and much needed service you are providing to Oxford University and the world with your Oxford Internet Institute. I still have fond memories when I took course work in ancient Greek and Sanskrit studies at Jesus College and Trinity College, Oxford University in my young manhood.


    John E.D.P. Malin, Esq. M.A.

  2. Thank you for your comments and questions. I realize that the networked individual is no match for the networked institution, but the Internet and related ICTs do enhance the relative communicative power of individuals vis-a-vis the state and other institutions, as compared with those individuals who do not understand how to strategically use ICTs like the Internet.

    I also understand how it seems that individual voices become part of the white noise (as you put it), but your own example illustrates how individual contributions can find an audience. It is very difficult to obtain a good sense of what influence an individual should realistically expect. I’ve never met a person who thought everyone listened to them. Recall Neustadt’s book on Presidential Power, which argued that even the President of the US had only the power to persuade.

  3. To: Professor William Dutton

    Access to privileged information was the power-base or knowledge baseline of governmental employees for the major portion of human history. Is the internet dissolving this stranglehold on meaningful information?

    What now confers advantage on the state and its resources? its top tax payers, top institutions, top corporate entities, or its poor and lower middle class citizens?

    So much of the internet activities to generate a ‘hyperlocal’ or “intensified temporal moment” induced by concentration of cameras, photographs, video camera, radio, etc. converging on an event or experience (a series of events) in a local space. Here the local space has been transformed by intense lighting, so we review it as hyperlocal.

    Now what advantage accrues to this dramatic intensity? If you are doing something wrong, your acts are caught for all to see. Unfortunately, most wrong-doing around the world is done by governments and corporations under cloaks of secrecy and piles of cash to silence the intelligent.

    It will be decades before individuals level the institutional power of control mechanisms; it must not be forgotten that all of us must continually have an energy source for human survival. If our information structures attract too much attention, because we know too much, there are ways to undermine and/or destroy our reputation or credibility.

    Any signal can be dampened by white noise.

    With all this said, my twin brother and I are firm adherents to Professor Dutton’s notion of the Fifth Estate. In fact, last week we had a local newspaper article published, “Understanding a $ Trillion Dollars” [The Teche News, St. Martinville, Louisiana, U.S.A.], and then in a few days there after heard a national commentator, Glenn Beck, Fox News Program repeat our basic words.

    As with all new powers of technology, good people use them morally and responsibly; evil people immorally and destructively. However, there is that slight 1% of moral good over evil (51 to 49) that in time will grow great positive change for humanity.

    We are identical twin brothers who are the Fathers of the Silicon Bayou in Southwestern Louisiana. We are corporate officers of Informatica Corporation chartered in Louisiana (there is another California company unrelated to us). James is a theoretical mathematician and John an ancient language scholar (Semitic and Indo-European philology). So we see Professor Dutton’s perspective from a 53 century archival record viewpoint.


    John E.D.P. Malin,
    Chairman of the Board & Chief Executive Officer
    James F.D.P. Malin,
    Vice Chairman of the Board & Chief Research & Development Officer
    Informatica Corporation [A.D. 1984-2009]
    Executive Division
    P.O. Drawer 460
    Cecilia, Louisiana 70521-0460

    Contact Information: Informatica@go.com

Comments are most welcome