A new blog at Nesta, reflecting on Tim Harford’s recent critique of big data and why the recommendation to continue a decennial census is a good thing:
We live in a world of exponentially expanding data. Digitisation and the emerging internet of things have created a world in which our daily activities leave a digital trail. To an organisation or an individual with the right skills, that digital trail becomes data, able to be probed and interrogated for meaning, for correlations and for trends. But in the rush to take advantage of this tsunami of zeroes and ones, it’s important to remember that not all data is created equal.
In 1882, novelist Leo Tolstoy, himself an enumerator in Moscow, described a census as “a mirror into which, willy nilly, the whole community, and each one of us, gaze”.
I have a piece published in the Conversation (UK) on the history, tradition and symbolism of the census. It is more of a background article than an actual position on the coming potential changes to the UK census.
I do have more specific views on how it should evolve – and in time I’ll probably blog about that – but as far as this piece goes, my overwhelming sentiment is that change should be gradual and well-tested.
« Take me back to the map! »
Frequently Asked Questions
What am I looking at?
Every person counted in the 2011 census of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is represented as a dot on this map – all 57,886,775 of them. Each dot’s location is near to a person’s usual residence, but the locations are not exact; public census results only report location to within a small area, usually containing a few hundred people. These are called ‘output areas’ in England and Wales, and ‘small areas’ in Northern Ireland. To create the map, I randomly place each person within their respective area. The colour of the dot reflects the person’s ethnicity as reported on the census.
Can I use this map?
Yes, with attribution. Consider it CC BY 3.0 licensed. The data is from the 2011 Census, via ONS (England & Wales) and NISRA (Northern Ireland) and you should cite them too, as the original source of the data.