The library of missing datasets–now a github repo and art piece


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The Library of Missing Data Sets by Mimi Onuoha

Brilliant. As Mimi Onuoha explains:

What is a Missing Data Set?

“Missing data sets” are my term for the blank spots that exist in spaces that are otherwise data-saturated. My interest in them stems from the observation that within many spaces where large amounts of data are collected, there are often empty spaces where no data live. Unsurprisingly, this lack of data typically correlates with issues affecting those who are most vulnerable in that context.

The word “missing” is inherently normative, it implies both a lack and an ought: something does not exist, but it should. That which should be somewhere is not in its expected place; an established system is disrupted by distinct absence. Just because some type of data doesn’t exist doesn’t mean it’s missing, and the idea of missing data sets is inextricably tied to a more expansive climate of inevitable and routine data collection.

Here are a few missing datasets:

When the US Foreign Intelligence Court meets
All extinct languages
Number of nuclear weapons Israel has
Number of EU migrants currently in the United States
People excluded from housing due to criminal records
Undocumented immigrants for whom prosecutorial discretion has been used to justify release or general punishment

For more, see here.

Onuoha describes herself as an artist and researcher. Her previous pieces include writing for National Geographic voices, and she has taught a class on the art of digital mapping at NYU.

As she points out, because a dataset is missing, it doesn’t have to stay that way. We now have data on the number of civilians killed in interactions with the police, thanks to the Guardian The Counted project. What’s brilliant about Unuoha’s contribution, is that it’s not about missing data, but about missing datasets. Missing data is where you have a dataset but it’s incomplete. A missing dataset however is a hole in our thinking; a missing concept. So as much as anything her project is about a form of “epistemic closure” or belief systems that are unable to recognise their gaps.

In this day and age of “post-truth,” “fake news” and a certain kind of lack of purchase of the empirical, her project is very timely.

(h/t @baratunde here.)

New Census data reveals rural America

Little noticed by most people except data-hounds, yesterday the Census Bureau released another slug of data. This time it was the American Community Survey (ACS) releasing the five-year data for 2011-2015. In their blogs about this, the Bureau chose to concentrate on rural America.


The Census has a fairly long explanation of what it defines as urban and rural, here, but basically after following a process of identifying what is urban, the rural is what is left over (about 97% of the land area of the USA).


Kentucky is a fairly rural state by national standards. Using the same categorization scheme as the Census map above, here is the map for KY:


What else can the ACS data tell us? I am interested in not so much unemployment, but the degree to which places are not in the labor force (NILF). The following map shows the percent of 16 year olds and older who are not in the labor force in 2015:


This shows better I think that when 50, 60 or even 70% of adults are not working in a community, even though they may not be on the unemployed listing (because they’re not looking for work) that leaves a fairly significant psychological impact.

For example, Martin County has the state’s highest proportion of adults not in the workforce (69.9%). It is 99% white, with a total population in 2010 of 12,929. The unemployment rate is at 10.3%, and its other characteristics, according to a now infamous article in the NYT make it one of the “hardest” places to live in the US:


A similar map from the NYT a few years ago shows that Martin County gets 42.6% of its county income via government benefits:


Trump beat Clinton 88.6 – 9.2% (3,503 – 363) in Martin County, about a wide a margin as anywhere in the county. The state’s fifth Congressional District has a Cook partisan voting index (PVI) of R+25 (the most extreme is a district in Texas, R+32). In the Civil War it was Unionist, and even during the second half of the 19th century it was Democratic, but it has been reliably Republican since. This is what people are referring to when they say that poor white working class “vote against their own interests.”

Interestingly, next door in Pike County, 4,848 people voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary and 2,335 for Clinton (source). That’s 7,183 Democratic voters. However, Trump took it 80.1 – 17.4% or 19,740 – 4,277 in the election. What happened to the nearly 3,000 Democratic primary voters (40% of the total)? Did Sanders supporters stay home, switch to Trump, or did Democratic supporters per se stay home? Either way, you can’t have nearly 40% of your primary voters drop out of the national election. In fact, you’re supposed to increase your totals for the actual election if you have a good GOTV ground game!

This supports the “depressed turnout” line of thinking in explaining Clinton’s loss. However, the relative weight we place on this, along with the “left behind” explanation, the racism explanation and others, will no doubt be argued over for a while yet.

Did the opioid epidemic help Trump win?

New article in The Nation:


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New research shows that Trump made huge gains in counties with the highest rates of death from drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
By Zoë Carpenter

The Nation article draws on empirical work by Penn State prof Shannon Monnat, who argues that counties “heavily burdened by opioid overdoses and other ‘deaths of despair'” [eg suicide] were where Trump “overperformed” in terms of his voting outcomes compared to Mitt Romney.

There’s been a lot of debate recently about whether Clinton “lost” Democratic votes (ie suffered lowered turnout) or whether Trump found some appeal, beyond explanations deriving from a politics of fear or racism. Logically, both could be true at the same time of course, but for my money I am most persuaded by Monnat’s analysis. I see it fitting a tradition of writing about rural/rustbelt anxieties about being left behind in terms of the economic transition. In Kentucky for example, there’s plenty of angst around the coal industry (Appalachian Kentucky voted overwhelmingly for Trump…even as they massively preferred Bernie Sanders over Clinton in the primaries.)

Here’s a picture of a typical car license plate I took on the UKY campus, outside the computer science building, part of the “Friends of Coal” movement:


You could respond with the observation that this is a rear-guard defense of the 6,254 (Q3 2016) people still in mining in Kentucky, and/or are long-standing trends (and were apparent during Romney’s and Obama’s election campaigns). Indeed, the shift from industrial to post-industrial “service” economies was taught in my undergraduate curriculum in the early 1980s by my former Liverpool university lecturer Peter Daniels, among others. [Sidenote: he’s emeritus now, wow].

The counter to that would then be something like, yes, but Trump mobilized sentiment in effective ways [how?]; just like Brexit, there’s something affectively going on at this particular time. Opioid use has certainly shot upward in the last few years alone. The recent Surgeon General report claimed that more people have a substance use disorder than who have cancer (20.8 million vs. 14 million). More precisely, 47,000 died from a drug overdose (30,000 from prescription drugs, largely opioids). This has led to headlines like the “Oxy electorate” and “opioid alley” referring to Kentucky, where 1,248 people died from drug overdoes in 2015. This has knock-on effects of high rates of hepatitis C. These do seem new developments at this scale.

Some of these eastern Kentucky counties are also the most heavily dependent on government benefits (well over 45% of county income in some cases). This means a full explanation will also have to account for stagnant/declining wages since the 1980s. And for that we need an account of neoliberalism…

British Library’s Maps and the 20th Century Exhibition


The British Library has a new exhibition on “Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line” (through March 1, 2017).

I was able to visit it last week and highly recommend it. One of the surprises for me was seeing the original of Harry Beck’s London Underground map, which I’d only previously seen in print or online.

There’s a great story from 2013 of Beck getting a famous London blue historical plaque here.

Here he is holding the original, which as you can see is surprisingly small:



Many thanks to Tom Harper, lead curator of Antiquarian Maps at the BL, for giving a guided tour!

Towards a Geography of Injustice

Clive Barnett new paper and news of a recently finished book The Priority of Injustice.

Pop Theory

IMG_0166Just in time for anyone still wondering what they should pack to read by the beach this summer, here is a short paper by me entitled  Towards a Geography of Injustice, available open access at the Finnish journal Alue & Ympäristö (Region and Environment – my paper is not in Finnish, just to be clear), which I’m told is “unofficially” the “critical geography journal of Finland”.  This is pretty much the tidied up script of the Keynote Lecture I presented at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Geographers in Tampere back in October last year. I learnt lots and met nice people at the meeting, and thanks to Kirsi Pauliina Kallio for asking me to write the talk up properly.

This is a short and quite discursive version of only one part of a longer, and I hope deeper, argument about ‘the priority of injustice’ that I have been working out in my…

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British Library – Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line

Looking forward to visiting this! I’ve been asked to write a short blog entry for the BL website, which I hope to do shortly. Here’s Stuart’s writeup (and he announces he’ll be part of a session on the exhibition in January).

Progressive Geographies

bl-maps-exhib-img-624x351Last night I attended the opening of the British Library exhibition ‘Maps and the 20th Century: Drawing the Line‘.

The lead curator is Tom Harper, but as he insisted, this was a collaborative project, and there were external experts used such as Mike Heffernan from the University of Nottingham.

The British Library has a huge collection of maps, and one of the challenges was selecting just the 200 on display in the exhibition. Not all come from the BL collection, of course. Given the twentieth century focus, much is explicitly political or geopolitical, but there are also maps from fiction, artworks and tourism. There were some striking juxtapositions of maps and a single visit wasn’t enough to take it all in. I’m hoping to go back. I was particularly struck by Satomi Matoba’s Topographical Map of Utopia, which uses military maps to build up a representation of the…

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Curating (in)security: Unsettling Geographies of Cyberspace CfP AAG 2017

Great looking AAG call for papers here.

Linguistic Geographies

Curating (in)security: Unsettling Geographies of Cyberspace
Call for Papers
AAG 2017 Boston (April 5-9, 2017)

In calling for the unsettling of current theorisation and practice, this session intends to initiate an exploration of the contributions geography can bring to cybersecurity and space. This is an attempt to move away from the dominant discourses around conflict and state prevalent in international relations, politics, computer science and security/war studies. As a collective, we believe geography can embrace alternative perspectives on cyber (in)securities that challenge the often masculinist and populist narratives of our daily lives. Thus far, there has been limited direct engagement with cybersecurity within geographical debates, apart from ‘cyberwar’ (Kaiser, 2015; Warf 2015), privacy (Amoore, 2014), or without recourse to examining this from the algorithmic or code perspective (Kitchin & Dodge, 2011; Crampton, 2015).

As geographers, we are ideally placed to question the discourses that drive the spatio-temporal challenges made manifest…

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