How Do You Separate The Wheat From The Chaff?
For those countries with command economies such as China, very often the data are either unavailable, or to be treated with varying degrees of skepticism.
For other countries, often data are provided to surveys on a purely voluntary basis by way of questionnaires as, for example, in the case of the USGS. In various instances, this can lead to difficulties. Two such are when the number of respondents cannot be taken as representative, and the survey is forced to project, say, total production, and when there are only one or two producers and any publication of their production figures would damage their business. (See the latest Mineral Commodities Summaries for either selenium, or zirconium and hafnium for instances of this.)
Other difficulties can arise when data are not sufficiently disaggregated — often because classification systems (for example, NAICS — the North American Industry Classification System) do not provide the required degree of granularity. As the U.S. Department of Energy notes: “Thus, for example, rare earth mining does not have its own figures and is instead a subset of ‘all other metal ore mining.’” or when sufficient distinctions may not exist within certain categories, for example, that of scrap: when scrap for a particular metal is “new” or “old” or, indeed, “scrap.”
As a general rule, always take time to read not only the notes accompanying each report, summary, etc., you look at, but also appendices covering such issues as sources of information, definitions and methodology. These will all be very important.
That said, unless you are in the forecasting business yourself and comfortable with your own expertise, the likes of the USGS are probably in a better position than most of us to come up with entirely credible projections based on the data they have.
How Do You Distinguish Information From Disinformation?
Some of the most useful information sources, where they are available, are the policy, strategy and research documents prepared by, or for, governments, government agencies and research institutes.
In the U.S., these include the last two years’ Critical Materials Strategy documents from the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE), the background materials, and report to Congress, on the country’s Defense National Stockpile, various GAO reports (including that on rare earths) and the publications from the National Research Council. In nearly all these, the appendices, footnotes and endnotes are a cornucopia of sources and resources, and well worth careful perusal.
In the U.K., for example, a report such as its Environmental Agency’s European Pathway to Zero Waste’s “Study into the feasibility of protecting and recovering critical raw materials through infrastructure development in the south east of England” is full of useful data, information and projections covering strategic metals.
And, where you can get hold of them, policy documents covering countries’ strategic defense stockpiles are always useful. (However, it often takes a deal of work digging out what you want.)
Supranational and international bodies can also constitute excellent resources. The UNEP’s International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management is in the process of publishing a number of important reports covering metals (including some strategic metals).
To date, these are: Recycling rates of metals and Metal stocks in society: scientific synthesis (2010). In addition, there is also UNEP’s Critical Metals for Future Sustainable Technologies and their Recycling Potential, produced for it by Germany’s Oeko-Institut. From the European Commission came its Report of the Ad-hoc Working Group on defining critical raw materials, together with its all-important Annex V, and the 2010 document “Critical raw materials for the EU.”