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Why have people lost trust in data and indices?

(People's Daily Online)

08:16, August 13, 2012

(Photo/People's Daily Overseas Edition)

China’s national rejuvenation index stood at 0.6274 in 2010, the average home size in the country was 116.4 square meters in 2011, and Chinese families’ total net assets are 21 percent higher than those of U.S. households. A variety of data have appeared, which are designed to describe China’s economic and social development in recent years, some of which have caused considerable controversy.

Use of data is irresistible trend

Zhang Yi, a research fellow at the Institute of Population and Labor Economics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Chinese society has moved from subjective judgment to using statistics to describe situations, which is a step forward and also an irresistible trend.

In addition to government statistical agencies, domestic universities, research institutions, companies, and media outlets have also released various indices or survey data, providing the public with access to information they otherwise could not know and giving them more choices in information sources, Zhang said.

"Due to social specialization, certain non-government professional institutions have compiled indices to serve the society," said Zhou Qingjie, director of Beijing Technology and Business University’s Center for Economic Research.

"Certain indices such as the HSBC China Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) and CCTV 50 Index have become important economic indicators, and can help the government, companies, and ordinary people make better economic decisions."

Why certain indices are lashed out at

"Salaries and consumer prices are like The Tortoise and the Hare. Our country has completed 62 percent of the ‘national rejuvenation’ task, but we still hesitate whether to eat a bowl of rice-flour noodles or not. Looks like we must ‘rejuvenate’ ourselves at a super-fast pace, otherwise the ‘rejuvenation’ of the entire nation will be affected," a micro-blogger said jokingly in response to the national rejuvenation index recently introduced by a scholar.

Although there have been a growing variety of indices and research reports in recent years, many of them have been lashed out at, and certain statistics are even considered "idiotic" by Internet users.

Zhou said that index compilation in China is still in its infancy, and the quality of indices inevitably varies dramatically. Certain institutions are unable to collect underlying data, or have not mobilized enough human, financial, and material resources.

Furthermore, due to many problems in the process of index compilation such as design flaws, insufficient data, unscientific data processing, and lack of transparency, their indices are often of inferior quality, and may even mislead government agencies and the public, Zhou said.

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