It is now early September, and the census tidal wave has receded..somewhat.
The website is still up, the ABS is still in business, and although some field officers may be still out there collecting data, most of the country has decided that filling out the census is a worthwhile activity.
Most people have completed their forms, either on line, or on paper – without having to be reminded. The rest of the country, apart from the extremely angry, or the politically insane, are getting around to it.
In the aftermath of the data tsunami which hit one of the world’s leading statistical agencies, I have been reflecting on what the census means to me
Hand on heart, you should know right now, I am a self-confessed census ‘tragic’.
Having worked on the program in various capacities over the past 30 years I am of course extremely biased.
I love the census, and in company with my tragic mates, believe that counting people and things, is one of our country’s more noble activities. Setting aside warfare, chopping off of heads, and prostitution, counting things is also one of the world’s oldest professions.
So what does it all mean to me?
It is not just about needing to know where we put our schools and hospitals.
It is definitely not about how we carve up our country into political fiefdoms.
Nor is it about the elegance of numbers, standard deviations (or their raunchier cousins, the non-standard deviations), or even the arcane and magical craft of turning data into intelligible and free sources of information, which ordinary people can tap into, and use in their daily lives and businesses.
For me, taking a census is evidence that we are lucky enough to live in a country that (mostly) cares about its population, and wants to know more about itself.
So if you are still out there clutching your census form, looking nervously for Big Brother behind the CCTV cameras, don’t worry, be happy, and fill out your form.
Nobody, apart from those wanting to create services for you and your family, is terribly interested in where you were on census night, or how you choose to describe your religious universe, or how many cars were parked in your driveway.
By the way, if you are still worried that somebody devious might find out where you were on census night, be comforted by the following statistical revelation – half of us get up and move between each census anyway – and we won’t know which half until we take the next census.
You might also be comforted by a very old statistician’s saying, once told to me by a very young statistician, “an interesting statistic is very often wrong”.