Elections

DJ Showcase: IndiaSpend

In an earlier post on data journalism in India, DataJourno founder had pointed out that though data journalism is still nascent in India, some of the work that Indian data journalists were doing were noticeable.

The post had actually given a list of top data journalism sites in India, listing IndiaSpend right on top but lamenting the fact that it was not being updated frequently.

We are happy to see the site once again becoming active with lots of new stories. DataJourno specifically wanted to showcase two stories.

The first, Is Data Noise Drowning Out The Chinkara’s Sneeze? goes deeper than just data analysis to raise a bigger question, extremely relevant in the Indian context. That is – whose data do you believe, when it comes to public issues?

The Rajasthan forest department’s chinkara census shows an 11% rise in the animal’s numbers over three years to 2013, while counting done by biologist Dr Sumit Dookia, who has spent about 15 years studying the chinkara, shows a 43% decline in its numbers in six representative sample sites.

The second, in its site, factchecker,in, Congress-NCP Govt Has Built More Houses Than It Claims!, actually digs up data to show that the previous Congress-NCP government in Maharashtra actually built more houses than it claimed. The former ruling combine took credit for building more than 4 lakh homes during its rule. In reality, it built more than a million homes, according to data obtained by IndiaSpend.

On the face of it, it is irrelevant now, as the elections are over and the former ruling alliance was decisively defeated. But it is important because this shows that if the political parties are sensitized, they can make more credible claims and counter each claim with data. Data is a great tool to fight propaganda, far better than raising your voice or making sarcastic comments.

Meanwhile, DataJourno has faltered on regular updation. Our apologies. We expect to be more regular from fourth week of December onwards

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DJ Showcase: LiveMint (11 AUGUST 2014)

Were the Afghan elections rigged?

From the headline, it looks like yet another political story from Afghanistan. But take a closer look and you will find it it one of the finest examples of data journalism. The fact that it is in an Indian newspaper and that too, one that primarily covers business and economy, just adds to its charm.

There are several reasons why we like this one so much.

First of all, it sets the expectation straight away. The blurb says what it is: one popular method used to determine whether a data set is doctored is to look at the last digits of the values. The simple sentence does two things: it raises the interest level of those looking forward to a data story; at the same time, it turns away those who are uncomfortable with data but are looking for a spicy story on some new evidence of malpractice being caught on camera. In short, it sets an accurate expectation. That is good journalism.

Second, and that is primarily the reason why it is here is that it actually tests the limits of data journalism. While most data journalism stories are about analyzed results, it is about nature of data sets.  While most are about data analysis, itis about statistics and yes, probability.  It looks at elections data in India, Iran and Afghanistan to suggest that elections in Iran and Afghanistan were probably rigged at the counting stage.

 

In an election, for example, there is no reason that the distribution of the last digits of the vote counts of various candidates should not be uniform—given the large number of votes that each candidate gets, the last digit is essentially random, and there is no reason that the probability of a 1 in the units place is more than that of a 2 in the units place. Thus, in a free and fair election, it is likely that the last digit is distributed uniformly.

Third, and this aspect often ignored by new age data journalism champions, many of who understand data very well but are not familiar with the basic promises of good journalism. And that is: you have to be fair and balanced, even if that takes a little interest away from the story. You cannot sacrifice these basic journalism values to make a story more interesting. This story adds the ‘note of caution’ in a very clear and prominent way.

Finally, a note of caution. There are several ways in which an election can be rigged. Speaking broadly, it can be rigged at either the voting or the counting stages. This method of looking at the last digits only gives us an indication of the probability of rigging in the counting stages. Methods such as “ballot stuffing” (reportedly not uncommon in India) cannot be caught with such methods.

Great work.