Public data set highlights: Mass shootings and foodborne illness outbreaks

Friday, December 11, 2015

The last two editions of Data is Plural have featured databases and commentary on mass shooting data in the U.S. I was disappointed to see Jeremy feature in the first one with very little commentary, considering the methodological disagreements on gun death data collection that have been pointed out by WaPo, NYT, Reason, and Vox:
Mass shootings in America. provides datasets listing all U.S. mass shootings — defined as “when four or more people are shot in an event, or related series of events” — since 2013. So far in 2015, mass shootings have killed 447 people and wounded an additional 1,292.
To his credit, however, he included a follow-up entry in this week's edition with more links to editorials discussing the finer points of data collection on the politically fraught issue:
More data (and discussion) on mass shootings. Last week, Data Is Plural highlighted, a source for data on shootings that wounded at least four people. Other resources include the Gun Violence Archive and Mother Jones’ detailed database of mass shootings since 1982. The Mother Jones database takes narrower approach, focusing on shootings that killed at least four people in a public setting. In a New York Times op-ed, published shortly after last week’s San Bernardino shooting, the editor behind that database argues that broader methodologies don’t distinguish between a “a 1 a.m. gang fight” and “the madness that just played out in Southern California.” A Washington Post article weighs the pros and cons of broader and narrower approaches.
I am getting really sick of the dead-horse-beating that is happening on the interwebz about gun violence, so (in a rare departure from my usual m.o.) I will refrain from comment. What I will highlight, though, is the very real damage done by the Dickey amendment: it is impossible to have an informed debate on gun violence because Congress continues to block funding for CDC research that would lead to authoritative research and statistics.
"If there is no research, it is harder to make suggestions for policy reform," said Dr. Garen Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. "And if you have a vested interest in stopping policy reform, what better way to do it than to choke off the research? It was brilliant and it worked."
Or, put much more succinctly by Dr. Jeffrey Swanson at Duke University, "It’s odd, but if you’re trying to do policy-informed research, you run into the fact that there are elected officials who don’t want to know the answer."

Doesn't seem that odd to me.

Anyway, in a much more classic public health vein, this week's Data is Plural also featured CDC data on foodborne illness outbreaks:
Good FOOD, bad food. The CDC’s Foodborne Outbreak Online Database (FOOD) contains 18,000+ outbreaks, which resulted in 358,000+ illnesses and 13,000+ hospitalizations, from 1998 through last year. In 2008, a multi-state Salmonella Saintpaul outbreak hospitalized 308 people — the highest count in the database.

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