migrants (Route55/Shutterstock.com)

Good tech can't fix bad data

As the fact–finding branch of the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service has spent 20 years working to provide information to staffers, lawmakers and committees. But sometimes, specialists find the available data isn’t sufficient for their research.

Hannah Fischer, a CRS senior research librarian and GIS specialist, began working on a project earlier this year to track the number of migrant deaths in the United States. She discussed her findings at the Nov. 14 Library of Congress GIS Day.

Fischer used data from the Missing Migrants Project to create a heat map of locations near the U.S.-Mexico border where migrant deaths were reported. By mapping longitude and latitude coordinates, she found only a handful of areas where migrant deaths were reported.

Digging further, the team looked into how 145 deaths could be reported at a single location by investigating the methodology of the data collection. They found that the data was primarily reported by county medical officers and sheriffs’ offices, and that the geodata showed where the data was collected rather than where the deaths occurred.

Initially, Fischer worked with an analyst and graphics specialist to develop a map legend to explain how the data collection method affected the heat map. Ultimately, Fisher said her team decided the map “didn’t meet CRS standards” because it could be misleading without careful consideration of the legend.

Although the team decided to put its efforts on hold because data from the last two years of the Missing Migrants Project was not specific enough, the researchers expect this year's data to have enough details to meet CRS’ needs.

“We take very seriously the idea that Congress could make policy based on the information that we give them,” Fischer said. “The current map could be misleading if you didn’t read the legend.”

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for GCN, covering cloud, cybersecurity and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Before joining GCN, Friedman was a reporter for Gambling Compliance, where she covered state issues related to casinos, lotteries and fantasy sports. She has also written for Communications Daily and Washington Internet Daily on state telecom and cloud computing. Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.

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