Posted on: Sunday, January 7, 2001
New state Data Book easier to get, harder to use
By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Page Editor
It will never be a best-seller. And the narrative line is kind of weak.
But there is a book out there that should be on the shelf of all who have more than a passing interest in Hawaii its politics, its population, its economy, its sociology or just about anything that adds up to a picture of these Islands.
The publication is the State of Hawaii Data Book, 1999 edition.
But, come to think of it, it isnt a book. And you cant put it on your shelf.
Because this year, the book is available only on the Internet. To save money and to make it easier to update information contained in this valuable resource, the state will print the book in paper form only every other year.
And thats no problem for those who have computers and the ability to download the hundreds of tables, charts and graphs contained in this compilation.
Those without computers will have to make do with an older version, or find someone with the Internet access and savvy to help them.
Knowledge and power
For years, the Data Book was the carefully tended baby of state statistician Robert Schmitt, now retired. It was a labor of love; Schmitt made it a personal crusade to get the best statistics available, put them in the most comprehensive form possible, and put them out there for all to use.
With Schmitt on board, you didnt need a computer. Ask a question and the answer would roll out, faster than any machine could duplicate. He held it all in his head.
The beauty of having an involved, experienced human at the center of all this data is that Schmitt could lead you to patterns that the tables alone would never reveal. Data on in-and-out migration, birth statistics, census data on ethnicity and who knows what else might lead Schmitt to fascinating theories on how the hapa-haole culture was evolving.
In short, data are data. It is how you use the stuff that makes it worthwhile.
Under the theory that knowledge is power, one might think that the state would be stingy with this stuff. But it is not. It compiles the information and puts it all out there for anyone who wants it.
Digging for data
For instance, want to know how many Hawaiians there were in 1980 and then in 1990, as the sovereignty movement began to pick up steam? You could look it up.
Answer: There were 211,014 Hawaiians in the United States in 1990, up 26.5 percent from a decade earlier, according to the U.S. Census. The number of Hawaiians living in Hawaii grew by just 20 percent while the number living elsewhere grew by more than 40 percent.
Maybe the newest census will give us the good news that they are coming home again.
Theres an endless wealth of information in here. But there is one problem. You have to know how to find it and use it.
The current electronic version of the book has a well-organized table of contents, but no index. If you dont know what youre looking for, you might have trouble finding it.
We are told that what is up there now is "preliminary," which suggests it remains a work in progress with improvements still to come. Knowledge is power. Hmmm. A searchable electronic index should be the first thing added to this site. An index would truly make this knowledge powerful, for all of us.
(Want to see for yourself? Log on to www.hawaii.gov/dbedt/db99/index.html and give it a ride.)
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