Hidden Costs of Media Hysteria over Lost Data

This post originally appeared on The Finance Buff.

In principle one could embed everything of value in a block of concrete so nobody could ever walk off with anything. That just makes it kind of hard to extract any productive value out of things. This applies to data. Media reports of lost data like this have an impact. They cause government agencies to tighten their control on data. A consequence is lower risk of data loss. Another consequence is less data available for the folks that use it to get stuff done, to make things better.

Data for research on health insurance and health care is critical to improving coverage, access, and outcomes. Today researchers around the world are waiting for data to conduct studies about programs tax payers have funded. Data access barriers erected in reaction to media hysteria slow or stop the progress of research. The more we lock down the less we learn. The less we learn, the less those programs can improve, and the more we waste tax payer dollars.

It is critical to be careful with data. It is possible to be too careful. To be of value, data must be used. To be used it must be shared, which risks loss. It is an unavoidable trade off, like driving and traffic. The goal should be to encourage responsible use of the vehicle while minimizing the risk of head-on collision. The solution is not to junk the car. (That’s the solution to a different problem.)

Later: Today’s OMB announcement about data.gov is a good sign.

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