Pushback: Critical data designers and pollution politics

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Concepts:Web Science & Big Data

Abstract:

In this paper, we describe how critical data designers have created projects that ‘push back’ against the eclipse of environmental problems by dominant orders: the pioneering pollution database Scorecard, released by the US NGO Environmental Defense Fund in 1997; the US Environmental Protection Agency’s EnviroAtlas that brings together numerous data sets and provides tools for valuing ecosystem services; and the Houston Clean Air Network’s maps of real-time ozone levels in Houston. Drawing on ethnographic observations and interviews, we analyse how critical data designers turn scientific data and findings into claims and visualisations that are meaningful in contemporary political terms. The skills of critical data designers cross scales and domains; they must identify problems calling for public consideration, and then locate, access, link, and create visualisations of data relevant to the problem. We conclude by describing hazards ahead in work to leverage Big Data to understand and address environmental problems. Critical data designers need to understand what counts as a societal problem in a particular context, what doesn’t, what is seen as connected and not, what is seen as ethically charged, and what is exonerated and discounted. Such recognition is produced through interpretive, ‘close reading’ of the historical moment in which they operate.

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Web Science Research Center (WSRC)
Principal Investigator: Deborah L. McGuinness
Co Investigator: John S. Erickson
Description: Web Science is the study of the World Wide Web and its impact on both society and technology, positioning the Web as an object of scientific study unto itself. Web Science recognizes the Web as a transformational, disruptive technology; its practitioners study the Web, its components, facets and characteristics. Ultimately, Web Science is about understanding the Web and anticipating how it might evolve in the future.

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Web Science
Lead Professor: Jim Hendler, Deborah L. McGuinness
Description: Web Science is the study of the World Wide Web and its impact on both society and technology, positioning the Web as an object of scientific study unto itself. Web Science recognizes the Web as a transformational, disruptive technology; its practitioners study the Web, its components, facets and characteristics. Ultimately, Web Science is about understanding the Web and anticipating how it might evolve in the future.
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