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Viz Responsibly

In the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, data is headline news everyday. From cases to death figures, the media is reporting data on a daily basis. As a data professional within the healthcare industry, the temptation is to explore this data and present my own vizzes. But is this a responsible thing to do? What should we consider before we share our work with others?

Remember what’s behind the data

To a analyst, data can often be viewed in its simplest form – numbers. But it is important to remember what these numbers represent and treat them with the respect they deserve. Each number in the coronavirus data, is a person. It may represent a person who is seriously ill in hospital or a family who is grieving for the loss of a loved one. To many, they are not just a number. They are not just a piece of data. They are not just an opportunity to showcase your data visualisation talents.

Data Analyst does not equal Epidemiologist Extraordinaire

You may work with data, you may even work within healthcare but the novel coronavirus lives up to its name. It’s novel. It’s new. We’ve not experienced a pandemic like this for a hundred years. Even the epidemiology experts are entering new territory. 

Are you in the right position to analyse this data, ascertain insights and share these with the world? Can you add value to the conversation? The answer may well be yes, in which case go right ahead but proceed with caution.

Limitations of the data

No data is perfect. All data has limitations. Covid 19 is no exception. Have you noticed how reporting on Covid-19 statistics has evolved over time? As journalists have got up to speed with statistics they have started to report on the limitations within the data.

Just a few weeks ago daily deaths from Covid-19 were presented as just that. Now they often come alongside caveats. For example, they only hospital-only deaths. And why are reported deaths lower on Sundays? Is this evidence of some higher power or is a reporting lag due to reduced staffing at weekends a more likely explanation? 

And this is just looking within the UK. Comparisons across countries bring in further complications with different methods and approaches to the the virus response. For example, the use of contact tracing, the extent of virus testing and the systems for recording and reporting on cases vary from country to country.

Proceed with Caution

In conclusion, the message here is proceed with caution. Very few of us are experts with the field of epidemiology and pandemics. The data associated with Covid-19 is complex and needs to be handled with care.

Equally, the effects of Covid-19 will be far-reaching. Think outside the box. Rather than presenting the same widely shared cases or death statistics, why not explore data from other sources? What makes you different and what are your areas of expertise? What can you bring to the conversation?

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