Future of Research joins other scientific organizations urging Puerto Rico’s Governor Not to Dismantle Statistical Agency

Future of Research joins other scientific organizations urging Puerto Rico’s Governor Not to Dismantle Statistical Agency

 

*To help us take action, please read and sign this petition urging the Governor of Puerto Rico to keep the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics autonomous and independent.*

 

The following is adapted from a Press Release by the American Statistical Association:

 

Today, Future of Research joined 46 other U.S. and international scientific organizations and professional societies in sending a letter to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, urging him to keep the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics (PRIS) autonomous and independent.

Earlier this year, Puerto Rico’s legislature was considering a proposal that would dismantle PRIS by reorganizing the agency’s statistical functions and placing them under the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DEDC). The plan also requires the DEDC secretary to outsource all statistical functions currently performed by PRIS. Rosselló is expected to present the latest reorganization plan in the coming days, which the legislature must approve by June 30.

Currently, PRIS is an independent government agency of the executive branch with many protections established by law – including having an executive director named to 10-year terms and a board of directors composed by experts – to ensure its impartial collection, production and communication of statistical data. Such protections would be eliminated under the government of Puerto Rico’s current reorganization plan.

The letter sent today – led by the American Statistical Association and transmitted by American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Chief Executive Officer Rush Holt – emphasizes the importance of PRIS continuing to operate independently of political influences, bureaucracy, and conflicts of interest.

Experts believe inaccurate and dated statistical systems underlie many of the problems Puerto Rico is now facing. For example, before Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which devastated the island in September 2017, Puerto Rico lacked the appropriate statistical methods to accurately measure deaths caused by natural disasters. Despite multiple reports that indicate more than 1,000 people died because of Hurricane Maria, the official government death toll remains at 64. Recently, PRIS approved a series of methods to measure the death toll from future natural disasters in Puerto Rico, as well as to produce the final estimates of the Hurricane Maria death toll in Puerto Rico.

Although PRIS has been underfunded for years and must constantly deal with resistance from other local agencies to collaborate, its accomplishments have helped the commonwealth in many ways. For example, its work helped identify Medicaid fraud, saving taxpayers $10 million annually, and revealed a statistical bias in the formulas used to compensate doctors in Puerto Rico under Medicare that cost the local economy about $120 million annually. The agency also played a crucial role in correcting the Consumer Price Index, which the government had been overestimating between 2001 and 2006, causing Puerto Ricans to unnecessarily pay more for everyday items such as gasoline.

Since the plans to dismantle PRIS were announced, the organization has not only received strong and swift support from the scientific community, but from individuals and political leaders in Puerto Rico and the US. A petition, in part organized by the ASA, asking Puerto Rico’s political leaders to reconsider its reorganization plans has been signed by more than 3,000 individuals, including former National Institutes of Health Director and Nobel Laureate Harold Varmus and president of the National Academy of Sciences Bruce Alberts.

There have also been multiple op-eds and articles published by outlets including the BBC, NBC News, Sense about Science USA, Scientific American, The Hill, Science and Nature.

At a moment when Puerto Rico residents are demanding transparency on critical issues such as the restoration of electrical power and proposed education reforms, the island is also debating the best path forward for recovery and trying to project the effects of austerity measures on the Puerto Rican economy. Eliminating PRIS now would be counterproductive. An Institute of Statistics that is autonomous, independent, free of conflict of interests and receiving appropriate levels of funding is key for reliable and publicly accessible statistics, which in turn are of utmost importance to the evidence-based public policies that can lift Puerto Rico out of its crisis.

 

The text of the letter is below:

Dear Governor Rosselló,

We, the undersigned organizations, write to respectfully urge you to keep Puerto Rico’s statistical agency, El Instituto de Estadísticas de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics, PRIS), and its board of directors fully independent.

At this critical historical juncture, Puerto Rico needs accurate, objective, and timely statistics. Government statistics empower the economy, serve the health and welfare of citizens, improve governance, and inform decisions and policies in the public and private sectors, among many other vital functions. Government statistics are also fundamental to evidence-based policymaking, the engagement of which is on a rapid rise in local, state, and federal governments. To address the challenges posed by its decade-long economic recession and the devastation of back-to-back hurricanes, Puerto Rico must chart its path toward sustainable recovery using reputable and reliable data and statistical methods.

Because of their broad and profound importance, it is imperative that government statistics be produced through rigorous scientific processes and analyses performed by experts that can function free of outside influence. Government statistics must be independent, objective, accurate, and timely and be perceived as such. PRIS has demonstrated repeatedly it has the expertise to function independently and produce rigorous, objective, and accurate statistics for the benefit of Puerto Rico and its people.

The alternative to objective and accurate statistical data to inform decisions is reliance on judgement, which of course can differ widely by individual and one’s perspective. However, in a highly regarded study on the topic of expert judgement versus a relatively statistical approach, the latter was found to be more reliable.

Lastly, we draw your attention again to the petition now signed by 3,000 individuals – and still growing – urging a strong and independent PRIS.

Thank you for your consideration.

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