A Globe and Mail article published late January revealed the difficulties of obtaining data in fields such as public health and energy economics.
‘Data gaps’ are the “areas at the national level in which data [is] not collected or readily accessible.” This includes inconsistent data collection, which makes it difficult to compare data, and data that is not updated on a regular basis.
For example, the article reports that data gaps have impeded research in a study on whether the American rise in “deaths of despair” — deaths of the white, middle-aged working class — can be observed in Canada as well.
One reason for data deficits lies in the appropriate collection of data. And even if data has been collected appropriately, barriers to accessing the data may remain.
Associate Professor Arjumand Siddiqi from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health explained in an email to The Varsity that, in her experience, data gaps occur in “groups for which we do not make a concerted effort to sample or identify.”
A summary on the evaluation of the Health Statistics Program between 2011 and 2015 highlighted that one of the recommendations made in the evaluation was regarding management.
The summary explained that for health statistics, which includes births, deaths, stillbirths, divorces, and marriages, the information would now be published 10–11 months after the reference period ended.
A recent blog post by Statistics Canada said that more, specific information on the population was needed to resolve the issue of data gaps.
Siddiqi suggested that statistics may be difficult to obtain as the “infrastructure or the mechanisms” regarding availability and accessibility of the information have not been facilitated by statistical agencies like Statistics Canada. For example, Statistics Canada’s Research Data Centres inhibit collaboration between researchers who are not near the centres in which the data they require is stored.
Data in the field of Siddiqi’s research, which is centred on the relationship between social and economic factors and health, are difficult to obtain.
Other areas in which researchers experience difficulty in studying health are racial inequalities.
“Existing surveys don’t have sufficient sample sizes of non-whites, nor are these samples representative of those populations,” said Siddiqi.
While one tool, like the census, would provide information on Canadians, there lacks a relationship between other sources for the collected data to be useful.
It is important for Canadians to know our statistics as “we need to know what’s happening in our society, who is benefitting, and whom we are failing,” said Siddiqi.