Jonathan Gray argues that aspiring data journalists and civic data hackers should strive to cut back on data-driven hype and to cultivate a more critical literacy towards their subject matter. Data can be an immensely powerful asset, if used in the right way.But as users and advocates of this potent and intoxicating stuff we should strive to keep our expectations of it proportional to the opportunity it represents. We should strive to cultivate a critical literacy with respect to our subject matter. While we can’t expect to acquire the acumen or fluency of an experienced statistician or veteran investigative reporter overnight, we can at least try to keep various data-driven myths from the door. To that end, here are a few reminders for lovers of data:
- Data is not a force unto itself. Databases do not knock on doors, make phonecalls, push for institutional reform, create new services for citizens, or educate the masses about the inner workings of the labyrinthine bureaucracies that surround us.
- Data is not a perfect reflection of the world. Public datasets are representations of the world gathered, generated, selected, arranged, filtered, collated, analysed and corrected for particular purposes ‘“ purposes as diverse as public sector accounting, traffic control, weather prediction, urban planning, and policy evaluation. Data is often incomplete, imperfect, inaccurate or outdated.
- Data does not speak for itself. Often data will require further research and analysis in order to make sense of it.
- Data is not power. Knowing that something is wrong or that there is a better way of doing things is not the same thing as being in a position to fix things or to affect change. Open information about government is not the same as open government, participatory government or good government.
- Interpreting data is not easy. While it is easier than ever before to do things with data on computers and on the web (scrape it, visualise it, publish it), this does not necessarily entail that it is easier to know what a given dataset means.
Access the full article by Jonathan Gray on Guardian.co.uk here.