Sunday, March 2, 2008

Social Science is Hard Work

The Times-Picayune had a piece this morning about the population recovery surveys. The particular landmark that inspired the article is thaoot ne fthe two competeing surveys just reported the city's poulation to have reached 300,000 as of January. The other survey repoed that the population hit 300,000 last July. There are a couple of sentences about this disagreement that I found a bit off-putting, but most of the artilce is a summary of the recovery analysis.

The two competening surveys are GCR & Associates, which just reported the figure of 300,000, and the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, which reported that figure in July. GNOCDC uses mail delivery stats from the USPS to estimate the number of households. GCR uses utility information. Their numbers aren't really in disagreement with each other; they each report a figure approximately monthly using their methodology, and GNOCDC's is consisently higher than GCR's. They both report the same trend of positive and slowing growth.

All of this is simply to say that Sociology is not like Physics; it's actually hard. They are trying to ask a simple question: how many poeople are there living in New Orleans? In order to answer that, the first really need to answer the question of how to count the poplularion corectly. Given that uncertainnty, 10% isn't bad. Because they both have done such a good job collecting all this data, we can be pretty confident that the real population is pretty close to both estimates.

Both group's websites have a plethora of relatedinformation. GCR is a general consulting firm, so their information is less obvious, but they have a lot of work for local governments.


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