• Classifying racial and ethnic group data: The politics of negotiation and accommodation

      Robbin, Alice (Elsevier, 2000)
      "Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity," formerly known as "Statistical Policy Directive 15," is a classification system that has formed the basis of the U.S. government's collection and presentation of data on race and ethnicity since 1977. During the mid-1990s, it underwent a public evaluation to determine whether the racial and ethnic group categories should be revised. This article examines the history of Statistical Policy Directive 15 from its origins through October 1997 and evaluates its consequences on political, economic, and social life. Among the many lessons that government information specialists can take away from the history of Statistical Policy Directive 15 is that classification systems are not neutral tools that objectively reflect and measure the empirical world. Classification systems cannot be isolated from the larger political setting. They are tightly linked to public policies, and, in the case of racial and ethnic group classification, they constitute highly contested social policy about which there is little public consensus.
    • The loss of personal privacy and its consequences for social research.

      Robbin, Alice (2001)
      This article chronicles more than 30 years of public opinion, politics, and law and policy on privacy and confidentiality that have had far-reaching consequences for access by the social research community to administrative and statistical records produced by government. A hostile political environment, public controversy over the decennial census long form, media coverage, and public fears about the vast accumulations of personal information by the private sector were catalysts for a recent proposal by the U.S. Bureau of the Census that would have significantly altered the contents of the 2000 census Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS). These events show clearly that science does not operate independently from the political sphere but may be transformed by a political world where powerful interests lead government agencies to assume responsibility for privacy protection that can result in reducing access to statistical data.
    • The politics of representation in the national statistical system: Origins of minority population interest group participation

      Robbin, Alice (Elsevier, 2000)
      The United States is an "interest group society" and federal statistical policy, like all other aspects of contemporary American political life, is dominated by well-organized interest groups. The public review to revise the "Standards for the Classification of Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity," formerly known as "Statistical Policy Directive 15," was notable for the significant presence of minority population interest groups. The politics of representation in the national statistical system during the 1970s is the subject of this article. The first part of the article summarizes the role that interest groups played in the recent debates on revising Statistical Policy Directive 15. The second part of the article discusses the origins of national statistics on minorities and their efforts during the 1970s to achieve inclusion in the body politic through representation in the federal statistical and administrative reporting systems.
    • The problematic status of statistics on race and ethnicity: An "imperfect representation of reality."

      Robbin, Alice (Elsevier, 1999)
      This article extends Stratford's brief observations about the problematic status of racial and ethnic group statistics to a discussion of the relationship among these statistics, public policy, and the conceptual status of race and ethnicity. Federal statistics are organizational products that are socially constructed. They represent the implementation of public policies that govern political, social, and economic life. It is the interaction between politics and the subjective meaning of race and ethnicity that is responsible for the continual modification of racial and ethnic group statistics. The article discusses the premises on which racial and ethnic group statistics have been based and illustrates how they were implemented in the instructions of the decennial censuses for classifying the race and ethnicity of the population. The article then summarizes some of the empirical evidence from recent research conducted by federal agencies and social scientists to show that racial and ethnic group statistics produced by government record keeping systems have no objective status. The meaning of race and ethnicity is contextual, situational, and subjective, and, thus, how respondents and observers define these concepts has significant consequences for the quality of federal statistics.