Edward Tufte fans are understandably excited about President Obama’s announcement last Friday that Tufte has been asked to serve on the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel.
Tufte is a widely respected expert in data visualization. I attended one of his seminars years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I wish him well. I’m sure he will do a good job. However, there are limits on any statistician working for politicians.
I recommend listening to Ron Howard’s explanation for why he no longer consults for government. (Ron Howard the Stanford University professor, not Ron Howard the actor/director.) Howard produced a decision analysis of nuclear fuel reprocessing for the Carter administration, but his hands were tied for political reasons. He concludes
If this were the only case where I had this dispiriting result … perhaps I could treat it as an exception. But what I’ve found is every time I did a study like this … there was nobody home in terms of really wanting to know the result.
Howard’s interview is available from the here. The remarks above run from 5:00 to 8:15.