NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Communicating Uncertainty in Official Economic Statistics

Charles F. Manski

NBER Working Paper No. 20098
Issued in May 2014
NBER Program(s):EFG, PE, TWP

Federal statistical agencies in the United States and analogous agencies elsewhere commonly report official economic statistics as point estimates, without accompanying measures of error. Users of the statistics may incorrectly view them as error-free or may incorrectly conjecture error magnitudes. This paper discusses strategies to mitigate misinterpretation of official statistics by communicating uncertainty to the public. Sampling error can be measured using established statistical principles. The challenge is to satisfactorily measure the various forms of non-sampling error. I find it useful to distinguish transitory statistical uncertainty, permanent statistical uncertainty, and conceptual uncertainty. I illustrate how each arises as the Bureau of Economic Analysis periodically revises GDP estimates, the Census Bureau generates household income statistics from surveys with non-response, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics seasonally adjusts employment statistics.

download in pdf format
   (200 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20098

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Passari and Rey w21172 Financial Flows and the International Monetary System
Rose w20494 The Bond Market: An Inflation-Targeter's Best Friend
Jones w21142 The Facts of Economic Growth
Imbens w19983 Instrumental Variables: An Econometrician's Perspective
Hall and Reis w21173 Maintaining Central-Bank Financial Stability under New-Style Central Banking
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Themes
Data
People
About

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us