Secret Data Sunday: Why does it Matter?

Bernie Sanders made some useful comments last week about the attempt, ultimately successful, to prevent Ann Coulter from speaking at Berkeley:

“What are you afraid of ― her ideas? Ask her the hard questions,” he concluded. “Confront her intellectually. Booing people down, or intimidating people, or shutting down events, I don’t think that that works in any way.”

I totally agree with Sanders and anyone on the fence on this issue should read this article about how Georgetown students politely put tough questions to Sebastian Gorka who had no answers and fled.

Sure, you might say, but what does this have to do with people who hide their data?

The connection has to do with confidence …  or lack thereof.

If you fear that Ann Coulter will run rings around you in a debate then why not try to shut her down before she gets the chance?  But if you are confident that you can outmaneuver Seb Gorka then why not exchange views with him in public?

Similarly, if you are afraid that an independent researcher might expose embarrassing weaknesses in your data and/or analysis then you are drawn to hiding your data.  But if you are confident in your data and your work then  you are not afraid of outside scrutiny.  In fact, you positively welcome outside scrutiny because you might learn something useful from it.

Another parallel between the two situations is that in both cases the choice of remaining closed should not be an allowable option.  Berkeley should have let Coulter speak (after having invited her) regardless of whether or not the dominant locals there are afraid of her.  Similarly, the dataset for the UN-sponsored Iraq Child and Maternal Mortality Survey really should be in the public domain even though releasing it will embarrass UNICEF and some people associated with the survey.

Over the next few weeks I’ll continue to give examples of people hiding important conflict datasets.  I believe that lack of confidence is a common denominator that runs underneath all these situations.

We need to draw appropriate inferences when we ask for data and the answer is “no”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s