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Indiastat and China Data Online: an evaluation and comparison
Article Type: Reference Reviews comparison From: Reference Reviews, Volume 26, Issue 2
China and India are the two most populous countries in the world today, with a combined population of over 2.5 billion. They boast the second and ninth largest economies in the world respectively, as measured by per capita gross domestic product in 2010. As such, accurate, current and in-depth statistics and data on their populations and economies are of vital interest to students and researchers in numerous disciplines. Indiastat (www.indiastat.com) and China Data Online (www.chinadataonline.org) are two online subscription-based products that attempt to serve this market.
Both databases are produced by relatively unknown publishers. China Data Online is a product of the well-respected China Data Center at the University of Michigan, presenting data sources and statistical publications of the national and provincial governments in China. Indiastat is produced by Datanet India, a commercial enterprise launched in 2000 by an Indian academic, R.K. Thukral. Data on Indiastat are primarily drawn from national and state governments in India, with occasional data coming from trade organizations such as the World Travel and Tourism Council, international government organizations such as the United Nations, and commercial surveys. The heavy reliance on government sources for Chinese data is somewhat problematic, given the questions that have long been raised about the reliability and accuracy of Chinese economic data in particular (Dyer, 2009). This is not noted by the vendor (for obvious reasons), but users should be made aware of the issue so they can seek other sources if necessary. As alternatives may not be easily available or free from bias themselves, China Data Online remains a valuable tool.
Publications and data offered by both vendors are primarily demographic, socio-economic and macro-economic. Topical coverage in China Data Online is broad and deep, ranging from employment to price indices to government financing to education and public health. In addition, China Data Online includes key statistical publications such as the China Statistical Yearbook, provincial statistical yearbooks and the China Labour Statistical Yearbook, and statistics from multiple censuses (population, economic, agricultural and industrial). Indiastat offers an even broader range of statistics with less-common topics such as media, tourism and sport, as well as the more standard categories such as demographics, crime, education, health and environment. Indiastat includes some comparative international data and related news articles from The Times of India. Both sites offer far greater breadth of data than the United Nations’ UNdata portal. More specialized World Bank and International Monetary Fund databases such as Global Economic Monitor, International Financial Statistics and GenderStats do offer greater depth in some areas for China, notably national accounts, balance of payments, exchange rates and gender-related indicators. Nevertheless, in general Indiastat and China Data Online have broader coverage of demographic and socio-economic indicators.
It is possible to locate some similar data on the respective government websites. For example, the English-language version of the National Bureau of Statistics of China website offers access to some comparable statistical series, organized by annual, quarterly and monthly indicators, but offers substantively less data. Its annual data consists primarily of indicators from the China Statistical Yearbook from 1996 onward, and there is little regional data available. Provincial government sites offer more provincial data but are generally only in Chinese. Users seeking comparative data will also need to visit multiple sites, making this a much less efficient option. The Indian Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation’s web site offers access to some data, including microdata not available on Indiastat, but is relatively difficult to navigate without the range of topics available through Indiastat.
Time series data are a frequent request from students and researchers with a minimum of ten to 20 years being generally the most desired, though historians and economists may require longer time series. Statistics on India have been available in print since at least 1865, with the annual Statistical Abstract Relating to British India from … published by the British colonial government and later editions by the independent Indian nation. Indiastat’s coverage does not extend back that far, but many series date back to 1952, though data availability differs depending on the data series. The foundation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 marks a similar milestone for many data series on China Data Online. Most datasets and publications reach back to at least the early and mid-1990s, with the key statistical publication, China Statistical Yearbook, available from 1981. Data are continually updated on both sites. Some China Data Online series are extremely current with only a three-month lag for monthly industrial data, while some series are noticeably less up-to-date. The most recent city data for some variables, such as foreign direct investment, is 2009. A similar variation exists on Indiastat. This difference is to be expected given the vagaries of different government agencies’ data collection and publication schedules, and the need of their primary audiences for up-to-the-minute data, but students and researchers may need to be made aware of this reality.
The greatest strength of both products can be found in the subnational statistics included. China Data Center offers statistics at the national, provincial, city and county level. Indiastat presents data for the entire country and individual states of India. In contrast, intergovernmental organizations generally only provide national-level statistics. Access to regional and local statistics is critical for users, given the marked disparities between the rural and urban populations and between provinces or states in both countries as a result of uneven economic development and specific government policies creating special economic zones in some regions (Polsa et al., 2006). The impact of these policies and regional inequalities are in themselves often topics of study.
While both products offer unique, valuable content, neither would win any usability awards. Data are generally easy to locate, despite the cluttered initial screens on both products. China Data Center organizes data in a series of drill-down menus by topic, publication or geographic area. Some subsets of data can be searched; many cannot, and there is no single search of the entire database. However, browsing is relatively easy and should suffice for most users. More frustrating is the need to use the Internet Explorer browser to fully utilize the printing and copying functions, and the inability to download multiple files at once. It is possible to purchase and access China Data Online through Proquest’s Statistical Insight product if better search, graphing, mapping, calculation and download functionality is required. Indiastat offers a basic one-box search box that searches all data on the site and functions adequately. Data are organized topically and users can also browse and drill down to locate data. Data can be downloaded in Excel and HTML formats, the former being ideal for this information type. Somewhat distracting flashing advertisements feature on one column of Indiastat’s home page, but otherwise the site is relatively pleasant to use.
In summary, both products offer access to comprehensive regional and sub-national data that is of particular value for researchers and students of India and China. Search and download capabilities of the products could be improved, but the content is valuable enough for most users to learn to deal with the quirks of the user interface.
Hui Hua ChuaMichigan State University Libraries, East Lansing, Michigan, USA
Dyer, G. (2009), “Economists at odds over China data reliability”, Financial Times, January 14, available at: www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/3bca8dbc-e25c-11dd-b1dd-0000779fd2ac,dwp_uuid=9c33700c-4c86-11da-89df-0000779e2340,print=yes.html (accessed October 1, 2011)
Polsa, P., Speece, M.W. and So, S.L.M. (2006), “The People’s Republic of China: markets within the market”, in Pecotich, A. (Ed.), Handbook of Markets and Economies: East Asia, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY, pp. 107–99