Statisticians are voicing fears about the possibility that datawill be manipulated to support whatever position the Trump administration may adopt, on everythingfrom abortion to immigration to racial inequality.

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And there’s another possibility that seniors should beware of:massaging the numbers to back unwelcome changes to the socialsafety net, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

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The Guardian reported that a number ofU.S. statisticians, including the outgoing head of the Bureau ofLabor Statistics and the former chief statistician of the U.S., areafraid that the Trump administration might suppress or manipulatepublic statistics that “don’t fit his narrative of the truth.”

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Katherine Wallman, chief statistician of the United States from1992 to January 3 of this year, is just one of those raising thealarm that the administration may stop collecting and publishingdata on a range of subjects essential to gaining an accuratepicture of how well the country is doing.

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In a Monday press conference, journalists were told by WhiteHouse spokesman Sean Spicer that “[t]he president, he’s not focusedon statistics as much as he is on whether or not the Americanpeople are doing better as a whole.” But, the article pointed out,“without statistics, measuring how ‘the American people are doing’is simply a matter of opinion.”

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There have already been moves by the administration to curtailany communication of publicly available data from the EnvironmentalProtection Agency, the National Park Service, and the interior,agriculture and health departments. The reason most often given forsuch limits on communications is “simply the defunding of specificstatistical programs,” the report said, adding, “This is alreadyunder way.”

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It highlighted two Republican-sponsored bills that seek to haltdata collection that studies racial segregation. The new bill,together titled the Local Zoning Decisions Protection Act of 2017,state that “no Federal funds may be used to design, build,maintain, utilize, or provide access to a Federal database ofgeospatial information on community racial disparities.”

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It would be a simple enough matter to manipulate statistics, orsimply stop collecting data, on such matters as how many seniorslive below the poverty level, how many rely solely on SocialSecurity for income during retirement or whether, if they’re stillactively in the workforce, how many of them are “choosing” towork—as opposed to how many must work in order to keep the wolffrom the door.

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Ditto health statistics on how dependent seniors are on Medicareand Medicaid to keep them alive and healthy, how many people areinsured under the Affordable Care Act and how many might stand togain—or lose—coverage under any actions still to come on itsrepeal.

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Statistics, or the lack thereof, could also blunt the pointedattacks on how much less women are paid than men, how much harderit is for them to save for retirement and how much more dependentthey are on Social Security benefits than men.

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They could also be used to change the scale on which SocialSecurity benefits are calculated, or to support the case forraising the retirement age or eliminating some of the eligibilityrequirements for claiming benefits—or to make it appear that thesystem is going bankrupt.

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Or it could simply become a matter of not releasing specifictypes of statistics.

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While the article pointed out that the likelihood of statisticalmanipulation is mixed, since the business community “relies soheavily on accurate numbers,” it also said that there are “concernsabout the increasing involvement of the private sector in publicdata collection.”

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It cited Kenneth Prewitt, former director of the U.S. CensusBureau and currently professor of public affairs at ColumbiaUniversity, who hypothesized “a scenario in which a private companywas responsible for population counts and its methodology was notpublicly available.”

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Prewitt explained that such a company could “use less rigorousmethods that could ‘count some people twice and others not at all.”This could affect everything from individual government programs tothe drawing of legislative boundaries.

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“What people do not understand,” Prewitt said in the article, isthat “[i]f you control the denominator, you controleverything.”

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