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Government Statistical Agencies and the Politics of Credibility
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Book description

Who decides how official statistics are produced? Do politicians have control or are key decisions left to statisticians in independent statistical agencies? Interviews with statisticians in Australia, Canada, Sweden, the UK and the USA were conducted to get insider perspectives on the nature of decision making in government statistical administration. While the popular adage suggests there are 'lies, damned lies and statistics', this research shows that official statistics in liberal democracies are far from mistruths; they are consistently insulated from direct political interference. Yet, a range of subtle pressures and tensions exist that governments and statisticians must manage. The power over statistics is distributed differently in different countries, and this book explains why. Differences in decision-making powers across countries are the result of shifting pressures politicians and statisticians face to be credible, and the different national contexts that provide distinctive institutional settings for the production of government numbers.


‘In this dramaturgical sociology of statisticians in five liberal democracies, Cosmo Howard has produced a wonderfully rich set of insights into expertise, authority and the public performances of statistical systems. This enjoyable and in-depth examination uncovers the struggles for credibility of both politicians and statisticians, in the twenty-first century. In doing so it highlights the importance of performative strategies for all experts.'

Jenny M Lewis - Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia

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