Data journalism is the punk of our times

Nils Mulvad has a great reporter’s name and a nice summary of what data journalism actually is in this interview for the Global Investigative Journalism Network.

One observation that he alludes to here is how we’ve always had data journalism in sports – in fact, its one of the key aspects of sports journalism. Data and competing statistics are the pivot of many sports debates, and often conclusions hinge on them.

Why is political reporting and debate so often immune to backing all assertions with data? Imagine a sports report that consisted of a couple interviews with fans about the performance of a player. Would that be considered acceptable, asking a few drunks in the crowd whether they thought one moving part was responsible for victory or defeat?

So why do we accept anecdotal political stories about the success or failure of a political figure or policy based on the quoted opinion of one or another political hack?

The plural of anecdote is not data – it’s journalism. Data journalism fixes some aspects of this dilemma.

The Boring Future History of Central Asia in 2013

I recently wrote a post for on how Central Asia will have a quiet year, neither fixing long-term problems, nor descending into immediate conflagration. After I had written it, I found a Foreign Policy post that chalked up Central Asia as a region heading for apocalypse before 2012 got going, in a post called “Next Year’s Wars“.

Several states in the region are surviving on luck: their infrastructure near collapse, their political systems eaten away by corruption, their public services almost nonexistent.

All of this, and everything else written here, was true in 2011, and will be true throughout 2013.

At this point, the odds of Uzbekistan invading one of its neighbors, Tajikistan being overwhelmed by repatriated jihadis, or Kyrgyzstan descending into full-scale Tajik-style civil war are close to zero. Not that it won’t happen, or that it isn’t more likely to happen here than elsewhere, but the actual likelihood of chaos is quite low for any given 12 month period in any given failing state. The likelihood rises with time as these issues go unresolved for ever.


Interview for RFE/RL on Internet in Turkmenistan

One of the rare American-born folks I’ve met who actually speaks Turkmen (they are nearly all Peace Corps volunteers) recognized my name from reading an interview I gave to Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on the state of the Internet in Turkmenistan. He said he had read it recently, though it was from 2011.

I didn’t even remember the conversation, to be honest. But, sure enough, there it is on the site. I am pleased to report that I was able to get a visa to visit my favorite -stan even in spite of this article.

I there is something interesting in there.

The Limits of Reporting on Central Asia

Some thoughts I threw together over at, basically center on the tragedy that is reporting on Central Asia. This tragedy is based on our assumption, generally well-founded in western democratic political history, that actions are undertaken with logical goals in mind, centering on the furtherance of some reasoned state goal.

…the way those of us who know Central Asia talk about the region basically can’t be published in most Western news outlets. This is, of course, how some local muckrakers write about the region. With the full knowledge that, when an action is taken that seems self-defeating and ill-conceived, the personal logic of the executor almost never matches the logical interests of ‘the State’ or ‘the Citizen’. There may not be any good reason – but there does not have to be.

It is nearly impossible to get to the bottom of the motives behind some of the worst decisions made in this region. But, newspapers have no choice but to publish them on their own terms. Maybe this is why elites in this region (and as Russia as well) assume we are such fools as to believe their stated aims are primary.

CNN Blurs Line Between News and Advertising

All this week, CNN International, part of that “most trusted name in news,” has aired a series of reports on Kazakhstan. But what looks to the unsuspecting viewer like more of CNN at its finest appears in fact to be sponsored advertisements paid for by none other than Kazakhstan’s oil-rich government.  Continue reading CNN Blurs Line Between News and Advertising

Interview for Deutsche Welle Documentary

An excerpt from an interview I gave back in 2010 to a DW documentarian on regional trade in Central Asia. It was taken at Dordoi Bazzar outside Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He liked the background chaos, as is supposedly adds authenticity.

The first response is to a question regarding whether Russia can lead a Customs Union within the WTO (it can), and whether Kyrgyzstan could join that Customs Union without violating WTO rules (without changes to the CU’s tariffs, it can not).

The second response is to a question on the effect of the Customs Union on trade between China and the EU. There should be little, since most of China’s trade with the EU travels by sea. Some expediters, such as DB Schenker, have been trying to establish a road/rail logistics corridor that would be competitive with sea routes for some products. It is possible that new CU bureaucracy or transit trade regulations could curb any headway the private sector can make in this area.

Russia and its leadership have long relied on customs duties as a major indirect revenue stream, and the CU is a natural extension of that regime.