Pic c/o Ancrack.co.uk
Caught up with last week's New Scientist yesterday and was struck by the relevance of the lead editorial's challenge to scientists about how their data is used (not just what it is, how clean it is or how it is obtained)
It is tempting to lay the blame solely at the feet of ignorant politicians or an irresponsible media. They do indeed play a significant role, often perpetuating mistakes, muddles and misunderstandings.
But journalists and policymakers can only work with what they are given. Scientists need to bear in mind how their statistics can be abused – or perhaps unintentionally read the wrong way.
The same point is equally valid for market researchers (as an old paper of mine suggested) or anyone who's creating information for other people inside or outside their organisation.
It's not an either/or: you've got to make sure your data is sound and clean but you've also got to recognise that it's what they do with it that matters (and they will do stuff with it if it it is to spread).
Data is never just data – it will have a human social context if it is to go beyond your desktop. So design the human in, please.