Saturday, April 6, 2019

the last book I ever read (The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis, excerpt ten)

from The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis:

After Trump took office, DJ Patil watched with wonder as the data disappeared across the federal government. Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior removed from their websites the links to climate change data. The USDA removed the inspection reports of business accused of animal abuse by the government. The new acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mick Mulvaney, said he wanted to end public access to records of consumer complaints against financial institutions. Two weeks after Hurricane Maria, statistics that detailed access to drinking water and electricity in Puerto Rico were deleted from the FEMA website. In a piece for FiveThirtyEight, Clare Malone and Jeff Asher pointed out that the first annual crime report released by the FBI under Trump was missing nearly three-quarters of the data tables from the previous year. “Among the data missing from the 2016 report is information on arrests, the circumstances of homicides (such as the relationships between victims and perpetrators), and the only national estimate of annual gang murders,” they wrote. Trump said he wanted to focus on violent crime, and yet was removing the most powerful tool for understanding it.

And as for the country’s first chief data scientist—well, the Trump administration did not show the slightest interest in him. “I basically knew that these guys weren’t going to listen to us,” said DJ, “so we created these exit memos. The memos showed that this stuff pays for itself a thousand times over.” He hoped the memos might give the incoming administration a sense of just how much was left to be discovered in the information the government had collect. There were questions crying out for answers: for instance, what was causing the boom in traffic fatalities? The Department of Transportation had giant pools of data waiting to be searched. One hundred Americans were dying every day in car crashes. The thirty-year trend of declining traffic deaths has reversed itself dramatically. “We don’t really know what’s going on,” said DJ. “Distracted driving? Heavier cars? Faster driving? More driving? Bike lanes?”

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