Data, visibility and agendas


I have been working on an independent project for the last couple of months. I surely enjoyed it. However the task, I will outline some of my reflections.

The project was about the level of poisonous and life threatening levels of mercury (amongst many other acronyms) in the soil of a once lovely area of centre Italy: Ciociaria.

Those who know something about cinema are familiar with the area and its history. However, it is another story. We have collected data from the local ASL (like the local NHS), compiled and analysed it, gathered everything that s available online with regards to experiences of cancer, animals with blue tongue and so on and so forth especially for two cities: Colleferro and Ceccano, where the level of thyroid cancer, pulmonary diseases, and all sorts of  medically challenging cases of leukaemia have made Ciociaria one of the most poisonous areas in the country Surely, these two cities are not alone because the wild industrialisation the are has been experiencing has migrated very often. Metal first, pharmaceutical when there was the pharmaceutical boom and now services, with the boom of big shopping centres, massive IKEAs that will be sitting above historical sites. Of course, waste management is not something we can forget. In fact, in some data we gathered, we noticed that in 2013 600 tons of so-called “organic vegetables” have been shipped from an area south of Ciociaria. Funky stuff that was not mentioned to these artsy fartsy bobo…the tomatoes were grown on waste sites.

Anyway, nothing really new. Everybody has taken to Social media, traditional media, published books and compiled statistical evidence about the need to sanitise the area, the river (did I mention it? oh no. That s the part we re still analysing along with the calcium deficits caused by thyroid problems), the river banks and the soil.

All this long story to say: where is that statistics becomes a place of resistance in this particular case? There has been quite a lot going on about Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s connection between lack of data and lack of policies (to protect children in her case). However, how is data and statistical evidence, the rather big movement that has taken to streets, social media and the like to be considered? Shall we start to think that big data, algorithms, onto-epistemological reasoning of the being and blabla is becoming yet another academic (hence funded) mental masturbation with no ‘connection’ to what is happening?

Surely, this could be applied to any other event, case or situation but I have been working on this one….surely the concept of political agenda comes to mind. So, if there is a political agenda -and surely the Camorra as usual- how can we really talk about data in relation to and function of a grand political design? The issue I see, and have been seeing in the last conferences I attended and participated to is that there is a considerable possibility to do with data what we did with the Internet. Making it become a ventriloquist that gives a voice to the voiceless. Without considering the “usual”  social fabric and political consequences we -as researchers- are so strongly trying to forget.

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