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Open Data and a Critical Citizenry 50 50

Last week we discussed news that the UK government had released a treasure trove of public spending data. Charles Arthur, the Guardian's technology editor, wrote at the time how crucial it was for citizens to find ways to examine and interpret the data; otherwise it would be useless. Now, an anonymous reader sends in a response from open data activist David Eaves, who takes it a step further. He writes, "We need a data-literate citizenry, not just a small elite of hackers and policy wonks. And the best way to cultivate that broad-based literacy is not to release in small or measured quantities, but to flood us with data. To provide thousands of niches that will interest people in learning, playing and working with open data. ... It is worth remembering: We didn’t build libraries for an already literate citizenry. We built libraries to help citizens become literate. Today we build open data portals not because we have a data or public policy literate citizenry, we build them so that citizens may become literate in data, visualization, coding and public policy."
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Open Data and a Critical Citizenry

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  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:21PM (#32543220)

    We need a data-literate citizenry, not just a small elite [group] of hackers...

    You aren't going to get that, because what you're talking about is citizen-to-citizen education. Hackers do that already amongst themselves, and as a result they are constantly watched by the government and often viewed as a threat to the state. The government only wants people educated to a certain level -- that level being whatever is necessary so they can become a wage slave. Anything more than that, and you're abnormal, and therefore a threat.

    You'll never have a data-literate citizentry, because you'll never have a government that wants citizens to be capable of independent thought, critical thinking, and access to the facts and circumstances in realtime (or even a reasonable time) because that's a security risk. All that data being released without form or processing ability is not to help you, it's to overwhelmn you and divide you to the point where no criticism can be effectively leveraged against the government because it's simply too large, too entrenched, to make any form of protest useful.

  • Yeah... ok.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by werewolf1031 (869837) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:21PM (#32543224)

    Today we build open data portals not because we have a data or public policy literate citizenry, we build them so that citizens may become literate in data, visualization, coding and public policy.

    Good luck with that, because the painful truth is that the average pop-media-junky, marketing-spoon-fed citizen is resistant to learning as a general course. I've known so many people - adults, mind you - who honestly believe they simply can't learn new things, especially things of any sort of technical nature, be it computer-related, math-related, or what have you. It makes me sad, but there it is.

  • by elucido (870205) on Friday June 11, 2010 @06:56PM (#32543678)

    Obviously people refuse to learn the truth because the truth is too scary. They want to believe in the fantasy illusion created by Disney and by religious systems, to convinced themselves that God is protecting them or that the good guys always win, or that the government is protecting them, or that some savior, aliens, robots from cybertron, will come and save them.

    NOBODY IS COMING TO SAVE YOU. First learn to save yourself and you wont tolerate being ignorant. Free yourself from your own ignorance before you try to save someone else.

    Thats the only message that will allow people to truly WTFU(Wake the f*ck up). And even this isn't enough because even if you know the truth about reality you won't be able to change it, because the majority of sheep are comfortable.

  • by Dogbertius (1333565) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:21PM (#32543984)
    Too bad most of the population doesn't even grasp basic tactics used to manipulate the representation of data. The most common ones being:
    -cherry picking
    -disproportionately small samples sizes
    -no idea of what a confidence interval is
    -the fallacy of appealing to tradition/religion/celebrity-endorsement/belief
    -the inability to distinguish between science and psuedo/junk-science
    -or that, GASP, correlation does not imply causation


    This is a simple combination of common sense and critical thinking, which we were taught in fifth grade elementary school. Still, such a disturbing number of people seem to be unable to grasp such basic concepts.

    How exactly will they be able to interpret this data beyond dumping parts of it in excel, extracting an average (without outlier removal or consideration, because, "why would we do that? Won't it make it less accurate?"), and making another ridiculous policy or tax as a result? I'm all for making this data available for analysis by the public, but it is the responsibility of individuals to educate themselves beyond what they did (or did not) learn in school as a kid so that policy makers cannot bully them into submission due to an inability to interpret data or understand certain concepts.

    And before someones cries out "academic elitist", let me note, again, that that the above topics are taught to us as children, not in university.

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