Data Stories

Prof Leslie Carr

Who are you and what is you role in Data Stories?

I am Leslie Carr, Professor of Web Science, I am head of the Web and Internet Science Research Group at the University of Southampton.

I am one of the co-investigators, and my particular role is I am leading on workpackage 3. WP3 is about sharing and engaging with context. It’s all about trying to find out how to increase the shareability of data, it’s engagement. What we are starting at doing at the moment is trying to find out how shareable data is at the moment. We are looking at sharing of data on Twitter: how often do people share data, what are the types of data that are being shared, who is sharing data and what are they trying to achieve by doing that. Then, once we know how it is already happening we can look at improving the situation.

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

I suppose there is this view that everything we talk about has to match the real world.  Data is one of these tools to help us understand how our opinions, how our feelings, how our thoughts, how our fears, how our ambitions and hopes actually connect up to what is real – that we are not just making things up. So, we have lots of discussions about fake news, and we have lots of worries about whether there is lots of interference in discussions online, because we are seeing a lot of conversation that might not actually reflect what we understand about reality and so whether political , well they are particular political at the moment, whether it’s about Brexit, or about the American elections and American politics – what is real? So it’s about a sanity check,  sort of if we are worried that the investment in science is going down – is it actually going down or is it going up and are people’s claims accurate. 

The aim of the project is to take actual data, about the real world and to promote it as widely as possible, to help people understand what’s going on in all sorts of areas- whether it’s health, politics, commerce and the economy, or society.

I am part of Data Stories because my research interests have all been around how the web impacts the world. This is one of those examples where we believe that this huge amount of information that has been made available by the web should have a practical and beneficial impact on people and on our conversations, our debates and our arguments – these should be more knowledgeable, should be driven by facts and data and not just by partisan opinion.

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

I found it a challenge to answer the final question for the blogposts about exemplary data tweets. In the end I came up with this – a classic GapMinder tweet:

This is a good example of a data sharing tweet because it summarises a lot of data and an interesting story. Hans Rosling is very famous because he’s found an exciting way to communicate important data-driven messages. As a result he’s got a NY Times bestselling book “Factfulness” about his work, and 362K followers on Twitter.

BUT BUT BUT as if to underline the importance of our project and to emphasise what we already know about social media, he has very few retweets. His most retweeted data tweet is “The number of children in the World is no longer increasing, from now it is only the number of adults that increases…” and it gets 860 retweets. His tweet congratulating a Swedish football player got 1300 retweets, the tweet announcing his death got 6400 retweets and his retweet of a photo of the Syrian conflict got 36000 retweets. Similarly for the GapMinder account, its most retweeted data tweet was the exemplar that I gave above (527 retweets) compared to 2200 retweets for the announcement of Hans’ death and 24000 retweets for their retweet of “Tech buzzwords explained: AI—regression Big data—data Blockchain”.

I think you can see they learned a lesson in the publication of the book – its full title is “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think”. Short of adding “You Won’t Believe Number 7” it couldn’t get much more buzzfeedy.

So I’m looking for more positive exemplars in the “Public Engagement of Science” community, and particularly academics. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Some disciplines may have high profile public engagement figures (e.g. Physics/Brian Cox or Biology/Richard Dawkins) but little data-communication. By contrast, Economists (like Max Roser @maxcroser, Oxford) seem a good bet.