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Census 2000 and the Fuzzy Boundary Separating Politics and Sciences

1841st Stated Meeting - Cambridge
Kenneth Prewitt (US Census Bureau)
Jan. 10, 2001

The story of Census 2000 starts in 1789, when a decennial census was constitutionally established for political purposes. The story gathers momentum in the 1950s with the systematic measurement of the differential undercount, is joined to the politics of race in the 1960s, and by 1980 finds that census methodology is increasingly the stuff of party-line votes and litigation. Census 2000 has become a case study of a scientific project that is politically neutral in its intent and implementation but not in its consequences. Under these conditions, there are some important and perhaps counter-intuitive principles that can ensure the best science possible while still meeting political responsibilities.

Kenneth Prewitt has been Director of the United States Census Bureau since October 21, 1998. Nominated by the President, he was unanimously confirmed by the US Senate. For ten years he was Senior Vice President of the Rockefeller Foundation, where he directed the international science-based development program involving activities in Asia, Africa and Latin America. His main attention has been on the operations of Census 2000—often described as the largest peacetime mobilization in history. He has been a Fellow of the Academy since 1979. Read the transcript in the Bulletin.

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