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First POST: Big Data, Big Problems

BY Nick Judd | Monday, February 25 2013

Changing the Republican conversation

  • Top Romney for America strategist Stuart Stevens raised a straw man Sunday in a Washington Post op-ed that attacks "young, technology-focused Republican operatives who feel that the Republican Party should be doing more (which we should) and that, horrors of horrors, I chose not to tweet during the campaign. (For the record, I’ve had a Twitter account since shortly after the service launched and follow it perhaps a bit too obsessively.)"

    His unrepentant reply does little to bridge a growing generational rift in the GOP.

    Stevens' Twitter account was never what worried the younger operatives quoted in Robert Draper's New York Magazine piece from last week. Your First POST editor spoke to some of the same people in the course of reporting a piece that focused more precisely on the Republican Party's technology issues.

    They told techPresident — and techPresident reported — that the subpar state of the party's approach to social media, or any aspect of technology, was just a symptom of a disease endemic in Republican politics. Draper found this too, although we are obliged to point out that he did so about a week and a half after we reported much the same thing. The key paragraph from his piece is not the one that takes a swipe at Stevens for not playing the 140-character game. Instead, it's this one that sets the tone for the rest of the piece:

    The unnerving truth, which the Red Edge team and other younger conservatives worry that their leaders have yet to appreciate, is that the Republican Party’s technological deficiencies barely begin to explain why the G.O.P. has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”

    There is a subtext here that analysts and operatives have been dancing around for months, and it is that fresh faces, and fresh ideas, are not given the same weight in the GOP that they have received in Democratic politics at least since the Howard Dean campaign.

"Big Data Without Context"

  • Nick Bilton joins us among the small cadre of journalists who have discovered that Google Flu Trends is not a predictor of a bad flu season. Bilton uses this to make the point that data without context is not very useful, and sketches out a little room for the traditional notepad-carrying scribe, applying shoe leather, asking questions, explaining what the numbers mean.

    We have a professional interest in Bilton's thesis being correct, in the perpetual necessity of the skeptical reporter (or insightful editor, natch). But as Miranda Neubauer reported earlier this year, in this case, the reporter may be replaced by a better algorithm. Google told us that Flu Trends was never meant to replace statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. And Umar Saif, a Pakistani computer scientist, told us that it someday could — with the application of additional algorithms designed to bend those numbers to the task.

Around the web

  • David E. Sanger's new analysis of the so-called American-Chinese "cyberwar" restates as fact a number of assertions that had heretofore been qualified as passed along by someone else. The administration, through Sanger, seems to have defined once and for all the ground truth of a hostile Internet in the service of setting the tone for the Beltway conversation:

    In the next few months, American officials say, there will be many private warnings delivered by Washington to Chinese leaders, including Xi Jinping, who will soon assume China’s presidency. Both Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, and Mrs. Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, have trips to China in the offing. Those private conversations are expected to make a case that the sheer size and sophistication of the attacks over the past few years threaten to erode support for China among the country’s biggest allies in Washington, the American business community.

  • Owen Scott reports from an Engineers Without Borders event: "Again and again during the discussion, the participants from African governments stressed the importance of finding relatively low tech solutions for communicating open information to citizens, with radio being a clear technology of choice."

  • India is pursuing increased access to the electronic communications of BlackBerry customers.

  • Mobile data will overtake voice as wireless companies' chief revenue driver by 2018, according to a new report.

  • The Mozilla Foundation has released new details about its upcoming open-source wireless handsets.

  • Event: The 2013 Public Knowledge Policy Symposium, Feb. 26 and 27 in Washington, D.C.

  • Report: Technologies for Transparency and Accountability, published by the Open Development Technology Alliance.

  • Local media in Myanmar reports the country has been invited to join the Open Government Partnership.

  • Early polls show that a center-left party is likely to take the lead in a new government. The controversial, populist Five-Star movement sits a distant third in the first look at a new division of power, per Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal.

  • The White House caused a stir with open-access advocates Friday when it responded to an online petition by announcing a new directive "that directs [agencies] with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication."

  • @Pontifex, the official Twitter account of Pope Benedict XVI, will lay dormant after the current pontiff's abdication until and unless the next pope decides to pick it up, the Vatican reports.

  • New York City agencies have until March 7 to consolidate their public datasets on the city's central open data portal, a first step in compliance with a new open data law that may signal exactly how serious — or unserious — Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration is about making 21st-century governance a part of the outgoing mayor's legacy.