The death penalty and open data

One of the most memorable lectures I sat through in law school occurred in my first year criminal law class. The professor was grilling us on the reasons why anyone might support the death penalty. We came up with seven or eight, maybe nine. And while they weren’t mutually exclusive, some of them had nothing to do with any of the others. In other words, people supported the death penalty for very different reasons but they had one thing in common: their support of the death penalty.

I took that class 26 years ago, but this 2014 Gallup poll indicates that little has changed, except that there are even more reasons now: Fifteen reasons were cited by statistically significant numbers of individuals polled and here’s how those reasons were ranked. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

Screen grab from Gallup pdf of poll

Screen grab from Gallup pdf of poll

What’s this got to do with open data? Support for open data, like the death penalty, also can derive from reasons that come from seemingly opposite ends of the spectrum, and yet still lead to the support of open data policies and practices. The Pew Research Center on Internet, Science and Tech came out in late April 2015 with a report called, “Americans’ Views on Open Government Data.” This report is the first effort to benchmark such views. What they found confirms what we’ve come to learn about the world of supporting open data: people see a variety of benefits to opening government data:

Those Who Trust Government Are More Likely to Think There Are Benefits to Opening Government Data

Ohio is a great example of this. We see people being champions for open data who might not normally be put in the same sphere. This is because, in order to support open data, you don’t have to share the reason you’re doing so. You can be all about getting the “Boss Hogg mayors,” or you can be far more Aaron Swartz-like and be working toward the liberation of data as an end in itself. The goal is the same: to make data that originates with or connects to the public accessible to that public.

To see this assertion played out before an audience, tune in starting Friday evening to the State of Ohio with Karen Kasler (air times are listed there). She interviews Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel about the checkbook he’s put online, and then she speaks with me and Catherine Turcer of Common Cause. As you’ll hear, we don’t all have to be supporting open data policies and practices for the same reason in order to support it at all.


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