The good, the bad and the ugly

Communication of statistics in post-truth society

Key trends have impacted the information market lately, spurred by technology developments, data commoditization and data services availability, and changes in information consumption modalities. At the same time, the emergence of the post-truth world was certified in 2016 by the inclusion of this term in the Oxford Dictionary and the announcement that this was the word of the year.

This was compounded by the use of "fake news" in important political competitions around the world. Furthermore, the perceived lack of control over the spread of such misinformation on social media platforms led many authors to claim that we live in a post-fact era.

These changes have a potential dramatic impact on the relevance of official statistics as a trusted source of information for society. The main argument in favor of considering statistical a public good is that it provides neutral empirically sound arguments to all citizens that can be used to make informed decisions. By removing information asymmetries, which would lead to sub-optimal processes, these could benefit society at large and not just individuals.

An additional argument is that public policies can be better designed, implemented and monitored if accompanied by evidence-based information systems. This ensures transparency of public actions and better ways for citizens to control how public resources are allocated and used on their behalf. As such, statistics is a fundamental enabler of a modern democratic system.

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