The War on Data: Now we play the price

A few years ago, Mark Palko wrote an article, The War on Data, where we wrote:

The value of shared data reaches its logical extreme in high-quality, publicly available databases such as those maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau. These sources do not just support an extraordinary amount of research; they help individuals and institutions make better decisions and give us a set of agreed-upon facts that help keep our discussion honest and productive. For all these reasons, recent threats to publicly available data are cause for concern.

I’d forgotten about this until I came across a series of recent posts from Palko reprising the themes. This is all particularly relevant now, when we have the oddity of super-precise reports of the stock market and unemployment filings but no comprehensive sampling for coronavirus testing.

Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey, Ellen Nakashima, and Greg Miller tell the story in this news article:

The United States will likely go down as the country that was supposedly best prepared to fight a pandemic but ended up catastrophically overmatched by the novel coronavirus, sustaining heavier casualties than any other nation.

It did not have to happen this way. Though not perfectly prepared, the United States had more expertise, resources, plans and epidemiological experience than dozens of countries that ultimately fared far better in fending off the virus. . . .

The failure has echoes of the period leading up to 9/11: Warnings were sounded, including at the highest levels of government, but the president was deaf to them until the enemy had already struck.

The Trump administration received its first formal notification of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China on Jan. 3. Within days, U.S. spy agencies were signaling the seriousness of the threat . . .

The most consequential failure involved a breakdown in efforts to develop a diagnostic test that could be mass produced and distributed across the United States, enabling agencies to map early outbreaks of the disease, and impose quarantine measures to contain them. . . .

It does seem like a failure in not recognizing the value of good public data.