About David A. Swanson

David A. Swanson is Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California Riverside. He served as a member of the U. S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee for six years (2004-10) and chaired the committee for two years (2009-2010). In addition to serving as an expert witness and testifying before Congress, state legislatures and local government bodies, he has produced over 104 refereed sole- and co-authored journal articles and nine books, mainly dealing with demography. He also has edited or co-edited four additional books and Google Scholar shows more than 5,700 citations to his work. in addition to two Fulbright grants, he has received many other academic and professional grants and awards. Aided by the G.I. Bill, his B.Sc. is from Western Washington State College (now known as Western Washington University), and his Ph.D. and M.A. are from the University of Hawai’i. He also holds a Graduate Diploma in Social Sciences from the University of Stockholm. Swanson speaks Swedish reasonably well but his Finnish is so bad as to be embarrassing: "Se on huono."

By: David A. Swanson (26)

The Census: Protecting Privacy versus Creating Useless Data

Every ten years the U.S. conducts a census in an attempt to count every person once, only once, and in the right place. The U.S. Census Bureau does not release or provide information about individual people or households. Instead, it releases tables and counts of population data

Historically, the Census Bureau has been able to protect information about individuals through a “disclosure avoidance system." However, with the advent of sophisticated data mining techniques, the Bureau is concerned that its existing system will not prevent information on individuals from being ferreted out of tables when it releases results from the 2020 census. 

Because of this concern, the Bureau has been working for several years on a new, elaborate disclosure avoidance system known as “Differential Privacy,” (DP) which statistically adjusts data. Differential Privacy is the Bureau’s attempt to strike a balance between providing the highest level of data accuracy in the tables it releases, which would provide minimal privacy protection, vs. virtually 100 percent privacy, which would result in data so erroneous that they are not usable. 

As the Bureau grapples with the privacy vs. accuracy issue, it has been releasing a series of “demonstration products” using data from the 2010 census so census stakeholders can see the kinds of changes DP will make and determine the impact it would have on their work. 

I looked at Washington state’s census block population data, and the four-county area of Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom counties (to evaluate small-area-population-data). I have tested the impacts of DP and assessed that the errors it introduces are substantial. I believe similar errors will be found in other states as well. Further, I believe that if they are applied nationwide, they will render the country’s block level data essentially unusable.

You can read my full paper on the four-county area here.  

And here are links to a paper on the effect of Differential Privacy on the state as a whole, and one that looks at Alaska, respectively

Attached Files

About David A. Swanson

Posting Citizen Journalist • Member since Mar 31, 2020

David A. Swanson is Edward A. Dickson Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of California Riverside. He served as a member of the U. S. Census Bureau’s Scientific Advisory Committee [...]

John Servais

May 27, 2021

The Washington Post has this morning posted an article on the Census Bureau attempt to water down and perhaps make useless the 2020 census data.  Their article quotes several times from David Swanson’s full technical article which is linked from the summary article above.

You can read the WAPost article here - or at the Associated Press website here.  

David is a regular writer and citizen journalist with NW Citizen.  NWCitizen readers had this information a week ago.  While we focus on local issues, all our writers are local residents and will post articles with new information of state and national interest.  Others who frequently do are Dick Conoboy and Michael Riorden.  Congrats David for your writing being quoted by the Washington Post.

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The Census: Protecting Privacy versus Creating Useless Data

By David A. SwansonOn May 18, 2021

Every ten years the U.S. conducts a census in an attempt to count every person once, only once, and in the right place. The U.S. Census [...]

1 comment, most recent 1 month ago

The Thanksgiving Surge: How Fared Whatcom County?

By David A. SwansonOn Dec 12, 2020

Public health experts issued more than a few warnings about the danger of gatherings over Thanksgiving and although the surge in Covid-19 cases they expected nationwide took place, it was [...]

5 comments, most recent 7 months ago

Drilling Deeper into Whatcom County: Covid-19 & Political Orientation

By David A. SwansonOn Nov 19, 2020

This article is co-authored with Matt Cropper, Zoran Stojakovic, and Eric Tyberg. We thank Mike Mohrman and Tom Kimpel for technical assistance. Swanson and Tyberg reported earlier that nationwide, counties [...]

3 comments, most recent 7 months ago

Did Trump Help Democrats take the 2020 election in Washington?

By David A. SwansonOn Nov 15, 2020

This article is co-authored with Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed [...]

2 comments, most recent 8 months ago

Did Trump Help Democrats take the election?

By David A. SwansonOn Nov 07, 2020

This article is co-authored with Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed [...]

1 comment, most recent 8 months ago

The Last Stand

By David A. SwansonOn Oct 17, 2020

Beneath this mask is more than flesh. Beneath this mask is an idea, Mr Creedy. And ideas are bulletproof [This article has a co-author, Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive [...]

15 comments, most recent 9 months ago

COVID-19 Deaths in Whatcom County

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 26, 2020

On March 22nd, a COVID-19 case was announced at the Shuksan Long Term Care Center in Bellingham’s York Neighborhood and by March 25th the first of 11 residents had died, [...]

2 comments, most recent 11 months ago

Republican-leaning states take the lead!

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 21, 2020

This article is co-authored with Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed [...]

4 comments, most recent 9 months ago

Update on the COVID-19 Warning System for San Juan County

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 18, 2020

Co-author of this article is Peter A. Morrison, Ph.D., RAND Corporation Senior Demographer (retired) and President, Peter A. Morrison and Associates, Inc. He is an applied demographer based on [...]

Is “Being Republican” a Risk to One’s Health and the Health of Others?

By David A. SwansonOn Jul 03, 2020

[This article has two co-authors. The first is Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at [...]

6 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Revisiting the Estimation of Unconfirmed Cases of COVID-19 in Whatcom County

By David A. SwansonOn Jun 27, 2020

[Co-author of this article is Ronald E. Cossman, Ph.D., a Research Professor and Research Fellow at the Social Science Research Center at Mississippi State University. He also directs the [...]

A Tale of 39 Counties: Re-opening Washington and Political Orientation

By David A. SwansonOn Jun 21, 2020

[Co-author of this article is Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed [...]

12 comments, most recent 1 year ago

A Tale of Two Counties: Re-opening Skagit and Whatcom

By David A. SwansonOn Jun 16, 2020

[Co-author of this article is Eric Tyberg, a retired IT executive and consultant residing in Lincoln, California. Originally from Falun, Wisconsin, he rose through the ranks at IBM and formed [...]

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Early-Warning Covid-19 Alert for San Juan County and Other Seasonal Resort Communities

By David A. SwansonOn Jun 02, 2020

[Co-author of this article is Peter A. Morrison, Ph.D., RAND Corporation Senior Demographer (retired) and President, Peter A. Morrison and Associates, Inc. He is an applied demographer based on [...]

6 comments, most recent 1 year ago

The Lack of Containment Measures: Does It Constitute Senicide?

By David A. SwansonOn May 07, 2020

[This article authored by David A. Swanson with assistance from NWCitizen writer Dick Conoboy] Senicide, or geronticide, is the killing of the elderly, or their abandonment to death. Because the [...]

3 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Monitoring the COVID-19 Pandemic in Benton County: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

By David A. SwansonOn May 04, 2020

The COVID-pandemic in Benton County has played out differently than in Whatcom County. The baseline forecast for its expected peak on April 29th was a total of 17,716 confirmed cases, which [...]

Whatcom County COVID-19: The Final Report

By David A. SwansonOn May 01, 2020

Modeling even simple aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is more than challenging in the United States because of the sparsity of data.There is no comprehensive testing, and an active [...]

4 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Modeling and the Covid-19 Pandemic:  A Local Area Perspective

By David A. SwansonOn Apr 23, 2020

Modeling even simple aspects of the covid-19 pandemic is more than challenging in the United States because of the sparsity of data. There is no comprehensive testing and little is [...]

5 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Monitoring the COVID-19 Surge Peak in Benton County - Update Possible?

By David A. SwansonOn Apr 20, 2020

On April 7th, I wrote that the COVID-pandemic in Benton County appeared to be playing out differently than in Whatcom County. Its surge peak was expected on April 29th, four [...]

2 comments, most recent 1 year ago

Monitoring the COVID-19 Surge Peak in Whatcom County - Update 3

By David A. SwansonOn Apr 17, 2020

On March 30th, Northwest Citizen published a baseline COVID-19 surge peak forecast I did for Whatcom County. The forecast used March 28th as its launch point. It showed 6,151 total confirmed [...]

4 comments, most recent 1 year ago