Insights

The Rapid Irrelevance of Data in a Time of Crisis Part One

Introduction

The nation is in a time of crisis. News outlets report staggering statistics almost to the hour. State departments of health are constantly adjusting numbers based on facts from hospitals, EMS agencies and various levels of government. The public deserves the right to receive information about the severity of the problem. People look to the media for updates on what the plan is to help contain the spread of the virus and mitigate future loss.

The reliance on quality data is essential to the overall success of handling any crisis. The saying, “Garbage in, garbage out,” reigns true, and if the data is meaningless or regarded as potentially questionable, then the reporting will receive the same treatment. Questions on the accuracy may result in decisions made that are potentially harmful to citizens, who are the primary focus on being protected during any pandemic or crisis.

The intention of data and its use in making effective decisions was never intended to become a political weapon.  As public administrators consistently manage the eradication of data and its overall usefulness, one must wonder how it can be resolved to help formulate logical decisions that are for the betterment of society.  With the public sentiment of data showing increasingly questionable results and the advent of social media contributing to the negativity, there may be a point of no return in situations where any analysis is believable.  Partisan websites advocate for the persistent denial of what society should view as irrefutable data and its associated recommendations, there is a concerted effort to delegitimize results for the sake of winning political points.

Public administrators in their roles as effective leaders are designed to be apolitical.  In a hyper partisan environment, the trend appears to counter that position and focus more on talking points that cater to the majority in power.  Civil servants are placed in precarious positions and potentially persuaded to alter information that will counter a national narrative to maintain the appearance of independence.  The need for transparency and trustworthy information is critical in bridging the gap between the public and the organizations represented.

How Data Became Irrelvant

Throughout recent years and with the elevation of elected officials who deem data irrelevant, society relies on various forms of sources to obtain what they feel are trustworthy.  Journalism sways into partisanship where sources are labeled ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ or ‘far-right’.  The message conveyed appeals to the masses and their audience with words that are synonymous with talking points intended to incite anger or discourse.

Throughout recent years and with the elevation of elected officials who deem data irrelevant, society relies on various forms of sources to obtain what they feel are trustworthy.  Journalism sways into partisanship where sources are labeled ‘left’ or ‘right’, ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ and ‘progressive’ or ‘far-right’.  The message conveyed appeals to the masses and their audience with words that are synonymous with talking points intended to incite anger or discourse.

Narratives continue to be altered as a matter of political convenience.  We have seen where government entities alter data to protect their interests from public scrutiny.  Why?  To gain political points with the representative party?  To avoid public outcry or humiliation?  To outright lie to stave off a mutiny from outside influencers and campaign donors?  The mere fact that there is a desire to purposely alter a narrative to check a box with numerous reasons attached to reasons, some that are baffling yet accepted due to the current political environment.

Recent Public Administration Crises

Headlines driven by the constant media cycle continue to alert society on the status of what can public administrators deem their crises.  Some of the recent topics of discussion revolve around the concept of fake news, COVID, and voting.  Obviously, the choices are merely a small sampling of what the media continue to report on as a matter of public interest.  For this article, voting will be the selection utilized as the foundation of a deeper analysis.

The hashtag #voterfraud resulted in 239 tweets from the time frame between March 14, 2022, and March 19, 2022.  During the extraction process, Twitter disallows filtering based on dates and only allows a certain number of tweets during a 15-minute interval.  The graph below illustrates the frequency distribution of tweets during the timeframe.

A quick analysis depicted in the graph displays a relatively consistent number of tweets with a significant increase on March 18, 2022.  Further investigation revealed on that specific day, the media reported on former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows potentially committing a crime by registering to vote at a location he did not reside.  Consequently, the number of tweets increased by 234% on that day and immediately dropped by 86% on March 19, 2022.  The reaction was swift given the news coverage and within a 24-hour timeframe, the number of tweets subsided and returned to a normal frequency.

Additionally, deeper research into the breakdown continued to illustrate some interesting figures. 

  • 50% of the tweets were from domestic or US-based users
  • 35% of the tweets had a mention of the word ‘meadows’
  • 36% of the tweets originated from users who maintained a follower list of more than 1000 users

And in next week’s blog post, a deeper dive into the public administration dichotomy will present challenges to separate politics from the field of administration.  President Woodrow Wilson, the father of public administration, and author of the famed article ‘The Study of Administration’, sought to remove the strife of politics from the business of administrating.  Today, the dichotomy essentially evaporates with political ideologies ruling decisions with significant consequences placed on the citizenry.

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