The UCDP Dataset: Achieving Information Democracy or Turning Horror into Bland Data?

The database described in this paper had both important advantages and limitations. Its ability to spatially locate incidences of violence adds a decidedly geographic component that is missing from nation-level conflict databases. The higher incidence of violence in urban areas in most cases is a particularly interesting finding, though its immediate usefulness is unclear. However, the strict criteria for what constitutes an incidence of conflict meant that the numbers calculated in this study represented only a fraction of the scale of death in the relevant conflicts. While the dataset had a total death count of about 750,000, the civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, for example, resulted in the deaths of approximately 4 million people when considering disease and malnutrition. This discrepancy highlights the true cost of war, in that the scale of destruction is actually much greater than the scale of the violence. With regards to open data, one must ask what the purpose is of making this dataset open to the public. If it stems from a desire for transparency and democracy, I worry that such an analysis is not particularly informative to the general public. Firstly, for those people for whom a sense of scale is necessary for their comprehension of human tragedy, the numbers represent only a fraction of the tragedy. Meanwhile, for the majority of people who require human stories to get a feeling of the horror of war, bland statistics do precious little, and may in fact do more harm than good by desensitizing the public.

– Yojo


One Response to “The UCDP Dataset: Achieving Information Democracy or Turning Horror into Bland Data?”

  1. sieber says:

    An interesting challenge for open data, that it ultimately may do nothing to inform us or to prompt us to enacts substantive changes. In fact, the data may further anesthetize us to the horror, as you say. You might be interested in tweets referring to the recently held Open Government Conference in Mexico City, hashtagged #OGP15