Friday, 25 February 2011

Dead Log - Wikileak Data Mapped


News media coverage on the Afganistan War, started in 2001 and the Iraq War started back in 2003 by the then President of america, George W. Bush has slowly but surely been pushed of the headlines. It was big back then and still is every now and then, but the general public has gotten used to it and doesn't know where to go with additional information about similar events. In Afganistan the war is into its tenth year and in Iraq into the eighth.

Nevertheless people are still dying in this war, on all kinds of different sides. Long gone are the days where there was only two sides. Who is with who and who was with whom last time, or tomorrow? Nobody knows and probably nobody will ever know. The only hope is that progress can be made, even if slowly, steadily towards a stable but independent and local rooted sense of direction.

Wikileaks has in July and October last year released a massive amount of documents related to the war. These basically are reports on events and incidents, a War Diary essentially. Tse dat was picket up by the Guardian visualised via Google Fusion Tables. The Wiki Dum consist of some 391,000 records. The Guardian Data Journalists have been pondering over it for weeks and theyr summary is available on the Guardian Data Blog.

Iraq Death Map

Link taken from the Guardian Data Blog / The data on all reported deaths in Iraq is available on the Google Fusion Tables. Full details available directly from the Wikileaks page. For a full view of Iraq zoom out, it really covers the entire country!

It is important to look very closely at this data. The visualisation is extremely missleading and is is vastly unclear what it show. For example as jpsnodgrass in a comment on the Guardian Data Blog points out, there are a great number of unrelated incidents mapped in the same fashion implying they are contributing to the full picture. He notes "the same visual points represent vastly different categories of incidents involving injuries or deaths. For example, look north of Fallujah city where two red dots lie very close to each other. This is the information about one of the events:

RCT-1 CONDUCTS OPF REHEARSAL AND FEINT NORTH OF FALLUJAH
Type: Friendly Action
Category: Attack
Region: MNF-W
Attack on: FRIEND
Enemies killed: 14

This means that Regimental Combat Team One (part of the 1st Marines) conducts Opposing Force (generic "The Enemy" for training purposes) rehearsal and feint. i.e. They were practicing the maneuver into Fallujah and pulled out.
The 14 "enemies" seem to be fictional entities hypothetically killed in a theatric rehearsal.

The dot next to this:
2-7 TANK ROLLS OVER IVO FALLUJAH: 1X CF KIA
Type: Non-Combat Event
Category: Accident
Region: MNF-W
Attack on: NEUTRAL

Read: Tank accidentally rolls over (and kills) Coalition member in the vicinity of Fallujah.

Click on the other points on the map, especially the ones outside of the major cities. You will find that many of them are "criminal events" (i.e. civilian murder, or murderer unknown, or a body was found, cause of death unknown)."

Taking out the 'Accidents', the category 'Others' and turning the map from a dot map into a heat map changed the picture


Link taken from the Guardian Data Blog / Map is based on the Wikileaks information on the Iraq War dumped in October 2010. It is available on Google Fushion Tables. You can log in via your Google Account and play around with the data yourself.

The Wikileaks do not mix things up or are misleading in themselves, but it is just a very large pile of raw data. This includes everything, including information that doesn't belong or is wrong, a dump really. Authoring a visualisation will still require a lot of attention and knowledge on the subject. Even though Google supplies this amazing Fusiontables tool, visualisation has not become easier. It has become more accessible.

By far these documents are the largest and most detailed public available documentation of any war do far. But is it really making a difference? Does this map convince you of the necessity of this operation? Are you now, after clicking a few of these incident reports believe in the strength of military forces and their ability to foster society culture and maybe democracy?

Guess the same critique applies to the Afganistan War Diary data released by Wikileaks around the same time. Here is also a Google Table available together with a crude mapping. The same category mixing is going on. It hoever includes many more, since it does not only focus on deaths.

Available on Google Fusion Tables or directly on Wikileaks, or also via the Guardian.

Afganistan War Diary Map
Data available on Google Fusion Tables via the Guardian Data Blog.


Link taken from the Guardian Data Blog / Map is based on the Wikileaks information on the Afganistan War dumped in July 2010. It is available on Google Fushion Tables.

War Reporting is not done from the desktop, not with Google and not with Wikileaks. As it is with 'clean warfare' and 'smart bombs', putting the distance between operation and action, or directing devastation from the comfort of a remoteness location is not changing the reality on the ground. War kills and imprecise reporting does not help save lives either.

war reporter action figure
Image taken from dcrtv / THe war reporter as action figure.

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