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Media Advisory – Congressional Briefing – May 28, 2003

May 28, 2003

Racial and Ethnic Data: Why We Collect It; How We Use It in Public Policy

Social scientists explain value of racial/ethnic data and research for policymaking

The question of whether public and private agencies should collect statistics that allow comparisons among racial and ethnic groups (e.g., through the census, public surveys, administrative databases) is currently under contest. The American Sociological Association (ASA) released a policy statement, The Importance of Collecting Data and Doing Social Scientific Research on Race, demonstrating the importance of these activities to the development of informed, evidence-based public policy, program implementation, and meaningful scientific research. Because of the importance of such data and analysis, other social science research and policy organizations (i.e., The California Institute for Federal Policy Research, the Council of Professional Associations on Federal Statistics, and the Population Resource Center) are collaborating with ASA in convening a congressional briefing on this issue for Members of Congress, their staff, and interested stakeholders in the policy arena.

A distinguished group of scientists and practitioners (e.g., police) will present evidence that argues for the central importance of racial and ethnic category data to public policy affecting business, education, housing, criminal justice, and health. In health policy, for example, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently highlighted this and related issues in influential reports on U.S. health care disparities across racial and ethnic groups. Members of Congress and other private- and public-sector national leaders participated in an IOM-organized National Press Club symposium that specifically acknowledged the need to protect such data collection in efforts to eliminate serious health care disparities that threaten community economies and the economic well-being of the United States.

The counter argument that eliminating data on race would better cultivate a race-blind society ignores strong evidence from countries that have taken this path (e.g., Brazil, France). The consequences of race in a wide range of social institutions cannot be scrutinized and addressed when public officials and scientists lack the necessary data.

Who: The Honorable Thomas C. Sawyer (PRC, former Rep. of Ohio) (moderator); Troy Duster, PhD, New York University; Brian Smedley, PhD, Institute of Medicine/The National Academies; Gerald R. Sanders, COO, Virtual Capital of California, and former San Diego Police Chief

What: Congressional Briefing on the Importance of Racial and Ethnic Data in Public Policy

When: Wednesday, May 28, 2003; 10:00 – 11:30 AM

Where: Rayburn House Office Building, Gold Room (Room #2168), Washington, DC

Speaker Introducer: Sally T. Hillsman, PhD (ASA).

More information: Johanna Ebner (, 202-383-9005 x332), Roberta Spalter-Roth (, or Lee Herring (

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About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.