Dr Justin Murphy

Who are you and What is your role in the project?

I am Justin Murphy, Assistant Professor of Politics at the University of Southampton.

I’m currently working on the question of how data travels. Does data facilitate trust in communication, increasing the credibility of messages and helping them propagate? Or is data subsumed by distrust and partisanship, if it is perceived as a more sophisticated form of strategic communication? Our culture has two contradictory was of thinking about data; we see it as a way of supporting claims with evidence, making them more reliable, but we also see data as manipulation to a higher degree, as indicated in the adage that there are “lies, damned lies, and then statistics…” Well, in public discourse, which effect does data have? I don’t think we really know, so this is the part of the puzzle I’ve been working on.

Why are you part of Data Stories and what do you hope to achieve?

I suppose I was brought on for my background as a political scientist, because the role of data in public communication today is obviously and increasingly politicized. So I hope that my interest in political ideology, technology, and media will come in handy. I hope to achieve what I always hope to achieve with all of my work: to slightly decrease my confusion about what the hell is going on in social reality!

Can you tell us an example of a data story that you care about?

When I started my PhD I was originally going to do a dissertation on twentieth century radical French political theory. Well, we had to take at least one basic statistics class, and although I’ve never been a math whiz, I learned early on that if you could competently execute and write up statistical analyses correctly, you could actually do pretty advanced stuff at a publishable level without ever having to DO much math. At the same time, I began to reckon with the extremely low likelihood that I’d ever get a job in Political Theory. But playing with data was pretty fun and there were lots of jobs doing that kind of thing, so I switched my path completely and spent the final two or three years of grad school learning advanced statistical methods and data programming. Does that count as a data story? That’s mine, anyway!