When designing international research, what do you use as your demographic guideposts? In most cases, the answer is statistics that in some way can be traced back to the national statistical agencies of foreign governments.
But how reliable are those data?
There’s an eye-opening article in the February 25, 2013 issue of the New Yorker. It’s a snapshot of the work of Leland Miller, an attorney who, with the help of pollster Craig Charney has created an independently collected data source about China called the China Beige Book.
Miller is quoted in the New Yorker article thusly: “The kind of data that the Chinese government puts out these days, even if reliable—and that’s a very big if—is not good enough.”
Miller has tapped into an important question. Namely, how much should we accept statistics produced by governments as the gospel truth?
Certainly there is a track record in Western countries of providing reliable statistics – and there is a level of transparency that allows skeptical observers to question findings; in the developing world it’s a different story.
Miller’s private effort may prove to be extremely lucrative for him – his current clients tend to be hedge funds and the price for the data is in the low six figures in US Dollars.
However, as researchers, we should be concerned about the privatization of quality data. Together we should monitor and evaluate how reliable data from different countries proves to be. And where there is a market need, we should work together to find solutions to fill that information gap.