Fighting the culture of the gut by providing data

I completely agree with Gerry McGovern on
Insight led by data not gut instinct:

In complex worlds, like the one we live in, things change very quickly, and things get very complicated very fast. What’s more, things make less and less common sense. Complexity and counter-intuition are twins. Advanced science and mathematics are crazy worlds of confounding ideas.

To succeed in our complex world we will increasingly be required to develop insight through data and evidence rather than through gut instinct.

One prerequisite though for insight through data is the availability of that data. The open data movement comes to one’s mind and so do two very recent examples of missing official data that provide crucial insight into current events.

(1) The Counted: People killed by police in the US, recorded by the Guardian – with contributions by the Guardian’s readers. The Guardian decided to start collecting the data as no official data is available:

The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.

(2) The Migrant Files: A consortium of journalists from 15 countries provide data on the human and financial costs of Fortress Europe. Stories from the intensive recherche project include Money Trails and Counting the Dead.

By compiling rigorous datasets from various sources, The Migrants’ Files team aims at creating a comprehensive and reliable database on migrants’ deaths. (…)

A consistent methodology is applied to all data, starting with so-called “open-source intelligence” (OSINT). Originated by the intelligence services, this approach collects data from publicly available sources such as media reports, government publications and grey literature. (…)

The journalists of The Migrants’ Files noted that the various data sources often lacked compatibility since each organization structures its intelligence differently. This required extensive data cleaning and fact-checking, using OpenRefine, an open source analysis tool. In a second stage, The Migrants’ Files journalists established a database on, a web-based tool specifically designed to support information gathering efforts for large-scale investigative reporting projects. (…)

The Migrants’ Files database of emigrant deaths now structures the data according to name, age, gender and nationality. Every fatal incident is recorded with its date, latitude, longitude, number of dead and/or missing as well as the cause.

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