Two cents on Ballmer’s USA Facts data project

I wish SteveB much success, but the minefield of economic and social statistics isn’t as safe as coding Word.

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics,” goes the quote attributed to British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and popularized by Mark Twain. Then we have the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s invaluable, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.”

I assume former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had the second quote in mind when he launched his USAFacts government data site last month. He’s already planning an expansion. Partners include the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR), the Penn Wharton Budget Model, and Lynchburg College.

The free site states it “is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative and have no political agenda or commercial motive.”

Of course, readers will bring their own world views and values with them. This is especially true today in our Cold Civil War, where everything, including data, is weaponized.

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Thus, the $66.6 billion the site lists as the 2016 expenditure on food stamps (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) is an outrage to someone on the right and shameful stinginess to progressives who would note $753 billion in defense spending.

Ballmer says people are giving him advice, so I’ll offer a couple of points.

First, hire some crusty old business-news copy editors. Plenty are out there considering newspapers have shed some 40 percent of their journalists since the recession. They would ask questions such as, “How big is that?” “Compared with what?” “Is this adjusted for inflation?” And “What’s the source?” This latter…

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