Weaponized data (and comms logistics)

Check out this week’s Financial Access Initiative newsletter. The first item is on the politics of evidence-based policy, and a pretty interesting debate and timeline to follow on the release of 2 papers with different conclusions about the effects of minimum wage increases.

Quoting below:

1. Weaponized Data and American Inequality: Last week I linked to a paper finding minimal effects from minimum wage increases, unaware that a huge explosion of debate on this issue was about to occur. If you follow these things at all, you know that last Friday a paper on Seattle’s minimum wage increase was released finding no job losses or cuts in hours. Monday, a different paper finding large losses for households with minimum wage jobs was released. There’s a whole lot out there now on the two papers so I’m not going to rehash those arguments (if you need to catch up, try this or this or this or just scroll through Twitter). I want to focus on the backstory of why there were two papers released so close to each other because it’s important for the future of research and policy-making. As detailed here, what appears to have happened is researchers at UW shared an early draft of their paper (using tax data that is rarely available in minimum wage studies) with the Seattle mayor’s office. The mayor’s office didn’t like the conclusions so asked a different set of researchers to write their own paper–and release it just before the planned date for release of the UW paper. While I have no special insight into the exact details of what happened, the prospect that the report is accurate disturbs me a great deal. It’s a blatant step toward what the author of the Seattle Weekly piece calls “weaponized data.” Be afraid for evidence-based policy. Very afraid.

[…also, see the end of this newsletter for a visualization of missing data. 😃 – “A reddit group put together a map about the data in maps, illustrating where data is missing. Source: @maxcroser and reddit“]

The model minority: Indians in the US

So, today I shared a wonderful statement of solidarity written by a student in the Indian American community. It outlines how there are Indians in the US who stay neutral, or even try to distances themselves from other minorities that are not “models” – and that instead, we should all stand in solidarity against all minority-phobias. I was excited that she had articulated the statement so powerfully, and wanted to share it widely.

At around the same time, ironically, a certain Indian immigrant to the US that I know posted this on Facebook:

Screenshot 2017-04-13 23.06.42

Women can finally now use their maiden names in their passports in India, and all this person could think to compare that to is to autocratic countries that require males to sign consent documentation for women to travel/etc.? Since when has comparing to the worst ever meant that you are doing well (doesn’t it usually mean you’re doing pretty badly, when all you can compare to is the worst in a distribution?)

And why, oh why, the need to make veiled insults at “that other” – those Muslim countries (by the way, not all, and by the way, go to certain cities in certain Middle Eastern/Muslim-majority countries and you’ll see gender norms and treatment far more advanced than that in Delhi, for example).

Why in the WORLD should we compare the advancement of women’s freedoms in one place to another in the first place? So like, if the government hypothetically used to beat women and now the prime minister said that was no longer allowed, would we then say “less violence against women, delighted. ps: far better than countries where systematized killing of women is happening!” How ridiculous.

It enrages me that this is seen to be another “move” in a competition of who’s best and most powerful, one religion somehow claiming it can trump another. Come on. It’s about universal, basic equality that women in India were supposed to have in the first place, and they’re “getting the right” to put their maiden names in their passports in 2017.


On listening

Will the ideals you defend today stand the test of time? Are you on the right side of history? Are you trying to give people freedom or take it away from them through oppression, false propaganda, and taking advantage of the power imbalances in the places you have a voice because of your demographics, what position in society you were born into, what bubble you call your own?

Why is it so easy for a middle class Indian immigrant to defend an “Indian Kashmir” from afar, for a white American couple to defend the actions of Trump, for a Hindu prime minister to spread lies about demonetization having an effect on “Pakistani black money”, for a billionaire white man to restrict a free press, for a fake newspaper to spread lies about “love jihad”, for a white press secretary to spread lies about Islamic terrorism? For an Indian American man raised in a community where he was able to get ahead to extrapolate that that must be the experience of an African American too? For men to tell their housewives in the 1910s that they don’t need suffrage, for women to wait 50 years after African American men got it, because false propaganda claimed that “90% of women either do not want it or do not care.” (Sounds a little like the current POTUS’s false estimates on various situations…)

Source: The Atlantic, 2012

For one woman in the 70s…or today… in the US to proclaim that we have “enough” rights when another woman doesn’t feel that way, and the statistics show we don’t have equal rights. For another woman now in India to proclaim she doesn’t want to go out at night so who cares what safety is like, she doesn’t need to be out at that time anyway, while another one wants to, or needs to be – for her livelihood, for her desire. Why is it that you think that what is enough for you is enough for another person living in another situation?

I’ve been thinking: we need to check our privilege, yes, but we need to check our voices, too. Who are we to speak for others who are out there speaking for themselves? Maybe we just need to listen for a little while, and amplify the voices of those who are already speaking for themselves.

The inevitable culmination of every society doesn’t have to be…

“Anthropology at that time was in transition, moving from the study of men dead and gone to the study of living people, and slowly letting go of the rigid belief that the natural and inevitable culmination of every society is the Western model.”
Lily King, Euphoria

“I asked her if she believed you could ever truly understand another culture. I told her the longer I stayed, the more asinine the attempt seemed, and that what I’d become more interested in is how we believed we could be objective in any way at all, we who each came in with our own personal definitions of kindness, strength, masculinity, femininity, God, civilization, right and wrong.”
Lily King, Euphoria

“Why are we, with all our “progress,” so limited in understanding and sympathy and the ability to give each other real freedom? Why with our emphasis on the individual are we still so blinded by the urge to conform? … I think above all else it is freedom I search for in my work, in these far-flung places, to find a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be. And maybe I will never find it all in one culture but maybe I find parts of it in several cultures, maybe I can piece it together like a mosaic and unveil it to the world.”
Lily King, Euphoria

“But I don’t trust a crowds – hundreds of people together without cognition and only the basest impulses: food, drink, sex. Fen claims that if you just let go of your brain, find another brain, the group brain, the collective brain, and that it is an exhilarating form of human connection that we have lost in our embrace of the individual except when we go to war. Which is exactly my point.”
Lily King, Euphoria

“When only one person is the expert on a particular people, do we learn more about the people or the anthropologist when we read the analysis?”
Lily King, Euphoria

“I think above all else it is freedom I search for in my work, in these far-flung places, to find a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be.”
Lily King, Euphoria

“The truth you find will always be replaced by someone else’s.”
Lily King, Euphoria

“You don’t realize how language actually interferes with communication until you don’t have it, how it gets in the way like an overdominant sense. You have to pay much more attention to everything else when you can’t understand the words. Once comprehension comes, so much else falls away. You then rely on their words, and words aren’t always the most reliable thing.”
Lily King, Euphoria