Our new geek-in-chief

My data science friends were all a-buzz recently: America now has a Chief Data Scientist.

DJ Patil, a former LinkedIn chief scientist and a chaos theorist, was appointed by President Obama as top cheerleader and data policy officer for Big Data.

“One of the most awesome things for me personally,” said Patil in his post-announcement address to the STRATA conference “is how much our government has embraced data science.”

As evidence, Patil points to the dashboards the President uses, the 135,000 data sets released on data.gov., and how it all contributes to government transparency and solving our social ills.

It is indeed an exciting time. But as the new national spokesman for government data, Dr. Patil has a lot of explaining to do.

The Veterans Administration – the agency awash in charges that dozens of hospital leaders falsified wait-time data to get bonuses while veterans died – recently responded to a USA TODAY open records’ request by sending data as a jpeg, a photo format.

The government didn’t release the data. It released a picture of the data.

That doesn’t even touch the politics that prevent collecting the right data in the first place.

For 19 years, the National Rifle Association has blocked federally-funded gun research. As a result we have almost no national data with details on who is injured or killed by guns, under what circumstances, what caliber, where the gun came from, whether it was illegal, and what works to prevent gun accidents and trafficking.

When an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo was killed by a police officer, everyone wanted to know: ‘How many people have been shot by cops– black or any race?’

Good luck finding out. In spite of decades of debate, the data is not collected.

So welcome aboard, Dr. Patil. We need a chief geek. But your biggest challenge may be bureaucracy below your new boss.

–Jodi Upton

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One thought on “Our new geek-in-chief

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