Analyzing the WikiLeaks Data

3 September 2010 at 1:15 pm 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

Once more on WikiLeaks: A team of University of Colorado researchers has already produced a geospatial analysis of the incident reports contained in the dataset. “By mapping the violence and examining its temporal dimensions, the authors explain its diffusion from traditional foci along the border between the two countries. While violence is still overwhelmingly concentrated in the Pashtun regions in both countries, recent policy shifts by the American and Pakistani governments in the conduct of the war are reflected in a sizeable increase in overall violence and its geographic spread to key cities. . . .” This is exactly the kind of analysis the military intelligence agencies are not doing, or at least not sharing.

Economists, geographers, entrepreneurship and innovation researchers, and other social scientists have a lot of expertise in network and cluster analysis. Why not turn them loose on these kinds of raw data? It’s also cheap: as Karen Kwiatkowski notes, “[t]he study was honestly, scientifically, and nimbly completed and published at no direct cost to the intelligence community. It was made possible by the decentralization, fluidity, and constant sharing and shifting of roles and responsibilities that comprise the Internet.”

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Innovation, Methods/Methodology/Theory of Science, Public Policy / Political Economy.

Law School for Economists The Modern University

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. David Hoopes  |  3 September 2010 at 3:59 pm

    It’s hard to imagine why anyone in the military would publish or share something like this. If one side of an armed conflict has different/better data or different/better ways of analyzing the data than the people they’re fighting it makes little sense to give it to them.

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  3 September 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Right, but as one of the persons financing this particular adventure, wouldn’t you like to have some way to run robustness checks on the military’s own analysis and conclusions?

    When the data were released, the official response was that the data were at best useless, because only the military’s own experts have the capabilities to analyze and interpret raw data (see original post). Actually the data can be quite useful, and may justify conclusions quite different from those of the military itself. Simple public-choice considerations suggest that such robustness checks are important.

  • 3. David Hoopes  |  5 September 2010 at 1:46 am

    But the knowledge only helps them if it’s better than the knowledge of their opponents. Since the knowledge (both the data and the analysis) is now “everyones'” it’s unlikely to help the people who originally had it as a secret. If the military or CIA is incapable of analyzing their own data that is a problem. However, if they had already analyzed it, there is really no incentive for them to tell everyone they had much less give to the enemy. One reason different intelligence departments don’t share data is because it increases the chances it will leak. Thus, the state department had the reputation for leaking everything (one way or the other).

  • 4. David Hoopes  |  5 September 2010 at 1:54 am

    Casual observation indicates the military and politicians over emphasize data from centralized locations and under-emphasize data personally gathered on the front lines. Costly mistakes early in the war occurred because people far from the action thought they could run battles from far far away. But, you’ll have to wait for my papers to get written and circulated to find out more. Laughs (I am writing them).

    Anyway, publishing classified information is very dangerous. (the wiki leaks not me).

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  • 6. westwood  |  22 September 2010 at 3:32 am

    It seems to be a convention for all government military department to keep secrets on everything, and in the meanwhile trying to spy on other sides’ information. I don’t know if they have ever considered an alternative, say “leaking” the information to public. I guess if all the analysis can use sort of economic jargon, then the government shouldn’t worry about the published analysis, it will take ages before someone can understand the paper, by the time, the government can have enough time to adjust their strategies.

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