These are interesting times to be talking about data. We’re coming to terms with the reality of a U.S. presidential administration that isn’t fond of objective truth or science unbiased by industry. Good data gets in the way of their plans. Librarians, archivists, and programmers came together in the week before the inauguration to scrape EPA climate change data from government websites, in order to ensure it wouldn’t be lost. In the weeks since, local Data Rescue groups have taken up the project of finding and preserving as many vulnerable records as they can.
Data are never neutral. Many people in the tech industry are coming to understand that we can protest the creation of a Muslim registry, but the needed details are already there, in immigration records, marketing databases, and what we post about ourselves and friends on social media. Questions that were uncomfortable before seem even more threatening. Where are you from? Your parents? What does your name mean?
This issue’s authors reveal several elements of this problem, from how you build a data archive that preserves the important things for your organization, to the role data plays in journalism on topics like police violence. We explore the mistakes one author made in her first big data project, and how our choices in record keeping can leave us unable to answer important questions and serve key populations.
We finish with a historical perspective from 1900, a project to illustrate the economic situation of African-Americans at that time, plus our usual announcements and call for contributors. We’re doing a wildcard issue, so this is your chance to tell us what we’re missing.
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