On March 1, 2017 the U.S. Office of Management and Budget published a notice in the Federal Register entitled “Revision of Standards for Maintaining, Collecting, and Presenting Federal Data on Race and Ethnicity: Proposals From Federal Interagency Working Group”
The 6-page notice raised many issues and asked for comments before April 30, which can be viewed there.
Ken Conklin posted the following summary of his comments on April 7. The complete, detailed comments are at
My comments address two main issues: How the race (and gender) question(s) should be worded to avoid confusing emotional aspiration with fact; and why multiracial people (especially Native Hawaiians) should be asked for the percentage of each race in their ancestry.
Here is a summary to comply with the limit of 5000 characters. For the complete commentary see
Census questions about race should be written in a way which clarifies that respondents are being asked about the facts of their biological heritage (check the boxes for all the races you know are part of your biological ancestry) rather than their psychological/social affiliations or aspirations (check the box for the race you feel most closely affiliated with on account of upbringing or current lifestyle). Perhaps both questions should be asked. Mixed-race respondents should be asked to estimate the percentage of each race. Current single-question ambiguity between fact vs. aspiration skews statistical medians toward aspirational identities in geographic areas where mixed-race minorities have large numbers of individuals engaged in political activity to assert minority rights. People who are strongly committed to a race-based political agenda are likely to say they are solely of their favorite race. Such aspirational skewing causes inaccurate media reporting by statistically unsophisticated reporters relying on Census Bureau news releases having weak or non-existent plain-English disclaimers that data may be skewed by aspirational self-identification. Even mathematically sophisticated scholars might misinterpret aspirational identity as though it is biological fact unless they are reminded about the ambiguity.
Special attention is given to the “Native Hawaiian” category, because nearly all respondents are of mixed race and the great majority of individuals have most of their ancestry being Asian or European rather than Hawaiian. Politically-inspired aspirational responses by “Native Hawaiians” to the Census race question, marking only the “Native Hawaiian” box to assert racial pride, have produced absurd official results such as 80,000 “pure” Hawaiians are living in Hawaii. Researchers, seeking to bolster applications for government and philanthropic grants to study or provide treatment for alleged racial disparities, count anyone with any amount of Hawaiian native ancestry as being fully Native Hawaiian and do not count them also as being any of their other heritages, even when the percentage of native heritage is very small. Thus propagandists are able to make use of Census data whose aspirational answers to the race question are intentionally misinterpreted as though they are biologically factual. Political propagandists say Native Hawaiians need political autonomy to ensure that government resources are directed toward their special needs, citing Census data where there is no warning about the ambiguity between aspirational vs. factual identity. Powerful race-focused institutions say they need monetary grants to study or overcome alleged racial disparities. Nearly all Native Hawaiians are of mixed race. But every Native Hawaiian with a medical or social problem gets a full tally mark added to the Native Hawaiian category for that problem while not even a partial tally mark is awarded to any of the victim’s other races.
Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the Census Bureau has become an accomplice to statistical malpractice or outright scams which are enabled by Census questions whose ambiguity allows researchers and news media to misinterpret aspirational responses as though they represent biological fact.
To achieve credibility and political neutrality the Census Bureau should make two improvements: (1) Write the race (and gender) question(s) to specify that responses should be based on biological fact; or better yet, bifurcate the question(s) into one factual and one aspirational question; and ask multiracial respondents for estimated percentage of each ancestry. If the Census Bureau decides the additional wording of the race question is too burdensome for the decennial, then the more-detailed American Community Survey could be used, or the topic could be addressed in a special supplement in the Current Population Survey for one month each year. (2) News releases for non-academic readers; as well as data tables, graphs, and verbal summaries for scholarly use; should have prominently-placed disclaimers, in plain English or technical language appropriate to the expected audience. The disclaimers should note the fact that responses arising from social/psychological aspiration might have caused skewing of the data in a way that does not accurately reflect biological fact, especially in the case of multiracial or transgender respondents.