It's safe to assume most people have never heard of the "Vienna Declaration." And that simple fact helps explain why public policies that fail -- policies that do vastly more harm than good -- can live on despite overwhelming evidence of their failure.
The Vienna Declaration, published in the medical journal The Lancet, is an official statement of the 18th International AIDS Conference, which wraps up today in Vienna. Drafted by an international team of public health experts, including Evan Wood of the University of British Columbia, the Vienna Declaration seeks to "improve community health and safety" by, in the words of the committee, "calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies."
On Monday, Industry minister Tony Clement took to Twitter's ramparts and resumed the Battle of the Census. "Data is valuable to many," he tweeted. "But personal questions you would like to force Cdns to answer on pain of jail is just plain wrong." Bad grammar, but the point was clear: The mandatory long-form census must go.
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, who has increasingly been taking the lead in defending the government, was even more explicit. "Fundamentally, my position is that whatever the presumed usefulness of these data, I don't believe it justifies forcing people to answer intrusive questions about their lives, under threat from a fine or jail time if they don't."
So it's agreed, then. The mandatory long-form census has no place in a free and democratic society that respects the privacy of its citizens. This is a matter of the highest principle to these principled politicians and the principled government they serve.
Which is why I am sure they will be alarmed at what I am about to reveal.
To turn statistical methodology into a political controversy, a government has to really screw up. But to make statisticians shriek and flap their arms like wounded albatrosses, to cause policy wonks to turn purple with rage, to compel retired civil servants to dispense with a lifetime of discretion and denounce the government's gobsmacking jackassery to reporters ... Well, that's something special.
Now, personally, I adore discussions of statistical methodology. Can't get enough. And so, I must admit, I was a little tickled when Industry Minister Tony Clement ordered Statistics Canada to change the census without the slightest public consultation.