Driving Mis-Data

April 23

I don’t know what it is that is bugging me about data-driven journalism. Actually, yes I do. A few things.

I like data fine, as a friend, but not as a relationship. Let’s assume the facts in data-journalism are all true facts (okay, that IS only an assumption, but for the sake of argument). In the world of data, there are two kinds of data. Facts, and USEFUL facts. What is the ratio between these two categories? Not this bad: haystack, needle. But it’s fairly easy to generate a lot of data that’s interesting in an abstract sort of way, but doesn’t get you any closer to good policy outcomes, which to some of us is kinda the whole point. Yes, I’m interested in true data, but I want a lot of work that goes into producing it to center around achieving good policy outcomes. I want to know what makes sense and what doesn’t in pursuit of actual objectives. This is not exactly ‘advocacy’ journalism. I call it ‘purposeful.’ To do this requires some selection and aggregation and organization. Scattered sticks and leaves to not a campfire make. Do I want this directed and framed around progressive objectives? Yes I do. And yes I expect conservatives want the same thing, the other way around.

Except, actually they don’t, and THIS is the main problem. For the conservative political project has decided to remove honest data analysis from its calculations. It has, to the contrary, spent a lot of time and money trashing the whole idea of data and facts. So they have in effect made the effort of getting facts right to be a fool’s errand of wasted political time. It’s a trap I think everyone ought to think about a bit before they jump in.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog.
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