• 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.

    • Does anyone really believe that we will ever get an accounting of the trillion or so dollar stim program? Surely you are not that naieve. That would require an accounting of ACORN.

    • dave,

      I am most familiar with research data pertaining to US government health care programs. In this area (and likely others) researchers’ access to data used to come after jumping over a reasonable and manageable set of hurdles. Lately things have gotten so tight that certain types of data don’t flow at all. Researchers with funded projects are unable to do their studies. That’s a clear waste.

      I am not at all familiar with the type of data you reference. It sounds more like information that reporters and government watchdog groups would value. I doubt there are many researchers with funded studies waiting for it. That puts it in a different class than the one I was considering.

    • TIE:

      Fortunately my resarch data comes mainly from the state — traffic safety and law enforcement. No, I was talking about the web site that is supposed to provide the general public with a knowledge of how all of the stimulus money was spent. The last I heard is that the states received some guidance as to how they were to report things up, but the problem is that the states do not have a very good handle on money that has been passed directly to local agencies.

      I was hoping someone out there might have better insight (perhaps more positive?) than mine.

      Thanks — dave