Thursday, May 23, 2013

Data morals and journalists as sense-makers

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In the past few weeks I've been reading what you could call "contrarian" narratives, such as Evgeny Morozov's To Save Everything, Click Here, and Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future. I disagree with both on some things, but they made me think a lot about data, infographics, visualization, and their moral and ethical implications. In fact, I have started incorporating some thoughts inspired by them in recent talks, such as this one at Harvard. I may also write a long article about those musings at some point.

Anyway, while reviewing notes and several links that I gathered after finishing the books, I stumbled upon the following great quote, taken from Morozov's scathing essay on Tim O'Reilly. Being a journalist, you probably understand why I highlighted some sentences:

"How do we ensure accountability? Let’s forget about databases for a moment and think about power. How do we make the government feel the heat of public attention? Perhaps by forcing it to make targeted disclosures of particularly sensitive data sets. Perhaps by strengthening the FOIA laws, or at least making sure that government agencies comply with existing provisions. Or perhaps by funding intermediaries that can build narratives around data—much of the released data is so complex that few amateurs have the processing power and expertise to read and make sense of it in their basements."

This connects (somehow, at least) to what Jonathan Stray suggests in this post, published today: 'Objectivity and the decades-long shift from “just the facts” to “what does it mean?”' Don't miss it.