Critical Data Studies (CDS)

By chinos

The article for this critical review was by Andrew Lliadis and Federica Russo, they address the topic of Critical Data Studies (CDS). CDS is an emerging research segment in the field of data. According to Lliadis and Russo,“The nascent field of CDS is a formal attempt at naming the types of research that interrogate all forms of potentially depoliticized data science and to track the ways in which data are generated, curated, and how they permeate and exert power on all manner of forms of life.” (Lliadis, Russo, 2014). With data being a hot topic in our society today it is not hard to see why CDS is an important topic to address. Whether it be testing to see how valid current data research approaches  are or to debunk them and move on to other potential research methods. The article opens with a clear and necessary explanation of the relevance of data “Data are a form of power. Organizations own vast quantities of user information and hold lucrative data capital (Yousif, 2015), wield algorithms and data processing tools with the ability to influence emotions and culture (Gillespie, 2014; Kramer et al., 2016; Striphas, 2015), and researchers invoke data in the name of scientific objectivity while often ignoring that data are never raw but always ‘‘cooked’’ (Gitelman, 2013).The article also touched upon references to Big Data and to put the Big Data into context as defined by Boyd and Crawford  “We define Big Data as a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon that rests on the interplay of: (1) Technology: maximizing computation power and algorithmic accuracy to gather, analyze, link, and compare large data sets. (2) Analysis: drawing on large data sets to identify patterns in order to make economic, social, technical, and legal claims.(3) Mythology: the widespread belief that large data sets offer a higher form of intelligence and knowledge that can generate insights that were previously impossible, with the aura of truth, objectivity, and accuracy.” (Boyd & Crawford,  2012)

In the field of information, most data that had been generated, used and archived in the past by the institutional powers that once were and were generally accepted, are now coming under scrutiny for the recognition of concealed biased nature of information or lack of inclusivity of all stakeholders in the ecosystem, making such old assemblages questionable and rejected in some circles. Assemblages being defined  as “Assemblages is a concept that helps capture the multitude of ways that already-composed data structures inflect and interact with society, its organization and functioning, and the resulting impact on individuals’ daily lives.”(Lliadis, Russo, 2014) With the increase connectivity in human networks  and globalization due to social platforms, the need to have data that is accepted based on inclusivity and transparency of generation is in growing demand and becoming the standard of the future. CDS is an attempt to get a better understanding at data without the influences of the predominate powers that once influenced most. The hope is that data that is deemed acceptable and trustworthy can help move forward the various fields of application this data can be harnessed and deployed in. This is very important as the credibility of the entire field rest on this progress.

The push for CDS stems from this critic of data along the lines of  including issues related to politics, ethics, and epistemology.”(Lliadis, Russo, 2014)  To help build the case for CDS, lliadis and Russo, expand upon the current explorations where CDS is currently being applied and the intentions hoped to be gained they explain “CDS has covered a wide area of communications inquiry, including data power issues in social media, apps, the Internet, web, and platforms, but also and equally importantly statis tics, policy, research, and organization.” (lliadis, Russo, 2014)

Should CDS continue to gain traction there are challenges it might face as it tries to rise as a credible source of data research validator since what CDS specifically is, is still not fully defined or understood by researchers in the data field. As as  an emerging field of data study ”‘what does a critical data studies look like?’’ Kitchin and Lauriault (2014) offered an answer to Dalton and Thatcher’s question and proposed that CDS should study ‘‘data assemblages,’’ that is ‘‘the technological, political, social and economic apparatuses and elements that constitutes and frames the generation, circulation and deployment of data.”  Also part of the challenges CDS is up against is to make its case as to what special contribution it can make that warrants its seclusion from the general study of data. As interestingly pointed out in the article “As Dalton et al. (2016) note, CDS might offend researchers who point out that all forms of research are critical and create a false separation between critical theory and data science. As such, CDS continues to remain an inclusive field that is open to self-critique and dialog, itself politicized in its quest to politicize Big Data.”  

In reviewing the article, looking at how CDS compares to other research study approaches that exist around social sciences and information was considered as a way to gauge how far off or similar CDS is to other research practices.  For instance comparing it to the approaches in Mcgrath’s article, Methodology matters: Doing research in the behavioral and social sciences. According to Mcgrath “The meaning of research evidence of any area of science is inherently tied to the means or methods by which that evidence was obtained. Hence to understand empirical evidence, its meaning and its limitation. Requires that you understand the concepts and techniques on which that evidence is based” and Mcgrath’s main points are summarized saying: (a)Results depend on methods. All methods have limitations. Hence, any set of results is limited.(b) It is not possible to maximize all desirable features of method in anyone study; tradeoffs and dilemmas are involved.
(c) Each study (each set of results) must be interpreted in relation to other evidence bearing on the same questions.” (Mcgrath, E. (1995). Another research work comparing to compare CDS to is Kincheloe and McLaren’s work on Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. They discuss and point out how “A critical social theory is concerned in particular with issues of power and justice and the ways that the economy; matters of race, class, and gender; ideologies; discourses; education; religion and other social institutions; and cultural dynamics interact to construct a social system.”(Kincheloe & McLaren 2002). In looking at these research methodologies there are similarities to the fundamentals CDS looks to address however there is still a sense of relevance and credibility that still needs to be established with CDS. A suggestion has been for CDS to tackle long term projects as mentioned by lliadis and Russo,“What need to be established are long-term projects that take up specific challenges in CDS by proposing critical investigations into Big Data assemblages.”  Topics that have been of concern to researchers in CDS include food agriculture, governmental, Health and even socio technical problems the article further mentions “Beyond humanitarian social data problems, sociotechnical systems that populate the worlds of economics, finance, and the stock market pose a significant challenge to CDS due to their closed, inaccessible nature.” They also make reference upon Christiaens research “Building on the work of Maurizio Lazzarato, Christiaens provides a critical take on human–machine interaction, arguing that the high-speed data-driven nature of financial markets subjectivize traders in preconscious ways due to their inability to keep apace with automated transactions Christiaens argues that CDS must consider processes of digital subjectivation and subjugation that occur when Big Data science is applied to socio- technical systems that are governed by humans and machines.”


Lliadis and Russo finish the article by sharing their views on CDS principles “In our view, CDS follows three basic principles derived from this broadly Aristotelean approach: the identification of social data problems, the design of critical frameworks for addressing social data problems, and the application of social solutions to increase data literacy. These three simple principles allow for a collective learning experience where critical approaches can be put to use in specific contexts. CDS should strongly emphasize an applied and participatory approach to learning and view interaction as an important part of the applied learning process.” Lliadis and Russo conclude acknowledging the importance of CDS being inclusive and equipping the users with the right tools for educating themselves. “The application of social solutions to increase data literacy and justice involves effecting change by conducting research and sharing that research and the activities that might grow out of it with the public. Importantly, CDS should provide individuals with the necessary tools for becoming more informed and the ability to organize efforts around data justice issues.” (lliadis, Russo, 2014)


To conclude, data is here to stay and is growing into all the areas of our lives. With the role data now plays in society, there must be more efforts in evaluating  data and in some acceptable way from all stakeholders. While CDS intentions of initiating a more rigorous approach seem to be logical and on the right track, it is still a young practice yet to truly be tried in the data field, its current siloed practice across different fields is also still yet to prove if this is a strength or weakness for its possible implementation and standardization. At the end there is admiration for such an initiative to critically analyze and critic data in a manner that is considerate to those that use it.



Iliadis, A., & Russo, F. (2016). Critical data studies: An introduction. Big Data & Society, 3(2), 2053951716674238.


Dalton, Taylor and Thatcher (2016) Critical data studies: A dialog on data and space. Big Data & Society 3(1): 1–9

Boyd, D., & Crawford, K. (2012). Critical questions for big data: Provocations for a cultural, technological, and scholarly phenomenon. Information, communication & society, 15(5), 662-679.


Kincheloe, J. L., & McLaren, P. (2002). Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. Ethnography and schools: Qualitative approaches to the study of education, 87-138.


Mcgrath, E. (1995). Methodology matters: Doing research in the behavioral and social sciences. In Readings in Human-Computer Interaction: Toward the Year 2000 (2nd ed.

Prominent Medical Libraries in New York City Observation

By chinos

On October 20th 2017, I had the opportunity along with others from Pratt Institute to visit the Kim Barrett Memorial Library at the Hospital for Special Surgery(HSS) in New York. The tour was given for information profession students to observe the roles, responsibility and functions of Medical Information librarians and centers. During the visit there was a gracious warm introduction by Rie Goto, Medical Librarian, at Kim Barrett Memorial Library in Hospital for Special Surgery. The Tour was also  preceded by a short Pre-tour talk by Terrie R. Wheeler, AMLS, Director, Samuel J. Wood Library and C.V. Starr Biomedical Information Center. In her brief tour introduction, Terrie talked about the role of information Librarians specifically in the medical field and the important role they play and the value they bring to the medical field. She gave insight to unforeseen things like grant writing and data retrieval speciality positions that information librarians have played over the years and are still growing into. The Medical Information tour then proceeded with us visiting the 3 other prominent information centres neighbouring the Kim Barrett Memorial Library for further observation. The other Information Libraries visited were Myra Mahon Patient Resource Centre, Weil Cornell Medical Samuel J Wood Library and The Rita and Frits Markus Library, Rockefeller University.  

The tour of the Myra Mahon Library, was facilitated by the Information Librarian who gave us a recap of the responsibilities of librarians at the center. The responsibilities as we observed during our visit ranged from answering the phone for inquiries from patients and their families on Medical information to guiding patients that come into the Information center on how to retrieve information from archives that are now digitally stored. While we were there we observed in realtime patients retrieving information for themselves.  After our Myra Mahon visit, we also visited the Weil Cornell and Rockefeller Libraries were we also observed the patients retrieving information before returning to the Kim Barrett Library at HSS.

On our return back to the Kim Barrett Medical Library, the Librarian continued the session with showing us remodeled spaces that had once been areas for stored hard copy papers, books and Journals that had now been digitized. We were then led into the Kim Barrett Library where we were shown the Labs where the Medical students and doctors retrieve information on the database and from book shelves. Surprisingly, there were not a vast amount of hard copy books in the book cases as Rie Goto, Medical Librarian, attested to and confirmed most information had been digitized. Rie explained the digitization of the medical documents had helped increase accessibility and reduced time to deliver the information of the Library materials.


Archived documents 5



Rie, also presented archived medical documents going back all the way to the early years of the hospital, which was interesting to see the way information was archived in the past.

Archived documents 2

She also presented physical artifacts, medical tools that had been used in the earlier years that had now been archived and only used for historical reference.


Archived documents 1

We were able to observe students use the Medical Library to retrieve data from the database while we were there. Rie had also explained the role Medical Librarians currently play in the Hospital.  She mentioned how the Librarians assisted in conducting systematic reviews of data and information and were consulted by doctors at times for literature for their patience or the children. One of the challenges Rie talked about that Librarians had faced in the past and were still facing to a degree was the challenge in some cases of no way to retrieve institutional history that was not properly archived in the past, to identify documented people in old pictures on files.  One of the interesting stories Rie told behind the importance of proper documentation of pictures for the information medical centers, comes from the actual story of how the Medical Library got its name. She explained that on August 3, 1947  there was a fire and the library was almost destroyed. The Librarian on staff was a female named Ms.Barrett. After the fire the story has it that she, Ms. Barrett, single-handedly sifted through the burnt remains of documents like books and Journals to save what was left. Years later in 1977 after the Library had been rebuilt, the Alumni association named and dedicated the medical library in her memory.


Archived documents 4

However at first the process of naming the library was a little challenging task as the documented name on the file for the Librarian was not found in the records of the Hospital. After further research her proper name was discovered and the rest is history, it also turns out she was the first and only section of the library to be named after a woman. One might say her contribution led her to be a recognized pioneer of females in the information professions. Which sheds light on the ongoing topic even today of the under representation of the contribution of women in the information profession as a whole, in a public way.

In Hospitals and medical institutions, Medical information professionals also play a major role in retrieving information from databases for medical teams and doctors. They can play a key role in helping out in the design and structuring of medical databases. According to Rei there are still no general widely accepted standards to documenting data and she suggested Librarians can play an instrumental role in creating acceptable solutions since they deal with both the data and those seeking information from the databases on a regular bases.

In summary of the observation session that occurred at the medical information centers , it was evident to see as witnessed in person that the role of medical informational professionals have evolved over the years from the typical archivist to adding values in growing ways to medical information centers like training of patients to research and grant writing. The art of grant writing is a major task and huge source of  fund raising for research in medical centers and Medical information librarians are center to this as they are  knowledgable to information that can support proposal requests. With this being said, Medical Librarians and information professions have come a long way but definitely still have more to actualize and see be done in their field.

“With great data comes great responsibility” – Data for Good Exchange 2017

By chinos

Bloomberg the popular Data organization in New York,  hosted its yearly Data For Good Exchange conference on  Sunday, Sept 24th, 2017. The theme for the event was “With great data comes great responsibility” focusing on how data can be used to solve public interest problems. The event was gathered by professionals from different walks of life currently using, interested or curious about data. Also, diverse speakers from different sectors of the society shared how data is being applied currently in their various fields. The day opened with passionate keynote speakers sharing current  applications of data to assist in hopeful research for cures for various health issues to recent uses of data in forwarding social causes like gun control regulations. John Kahan, General Manager, Customer Data & Analytics Microsoft, gave an emotional opening presentation on his quest to combat SID (Sudden Infant Death) based on the death of his baby son, Aaron 14 years ago. John has partnered with SIDs Research Fellow fund at Seattle Children’s Hospital to support their cause, he explained the important role data is playing and can play in providing information to help combat SIDs. The other Keynote speaker was Sarah Tofte, Director or Research and Implementation at Everytown, for Gun Safety. Sarah shared on the role data played in helping create policy’s for implementation of good gun laws across the country. The rest of the day was packed with different break out sessions and topics geared towards current initiatives and breakthroughs with data. 


Chinos Bloomberg pic 2



Other topics that were discussed ranged from Building Open data Dashboards for hyper local government, to topics on Ethics and Fairness when it comes to using data in society to influence policy, still  other topics touched upon were in the health sector. While there was so much said by diverse speakers overall recurring themes throughout the conference was the importance and challenge of ground truth data, data that wasn’t biased and trustworthy data. Each speaker reflected on situations that had required the above stated themes in different scenarios the importance of them and their effects in the outcomes of research due to the enabling power or lack thereof of in each circumstance. Like in the case of NYC 311 and regulating the data that was coming in through various media outlet to make informed decisions in creating timely solutions.  Also  during the presentation for Fairness – Aware Predictive Analytics in Child Protective Services: Development, Validation and Implementation, the speakers mentioned challenges where the data received was biased in regards to certain races in some circumstances  and also mentioned how in other cases data had enabled them to increase number of children that had been helped from predictive data that they had employed into their preventive process.

In another session Data driven resilience, one of the speakers Allen Estivalet of WSP an architectural construction company in NYC,  spoke on resourcefulness of data to predict potential erosion areas in construction paths but also the challenges and constraints of not being able to use best data for quality control due to time to validate and vet data with traditional superpowers and stakeholders  in the industry. Which led to his point that data and it’s visualization is a crucial tool in the early stages of projects to help stakeholders see the importance of decisions that need to be made and what to prioritize. Also being cognizant of restrictions due to standards from government and how data can help bring government up to speed with  modern techniques of doing things.

Overall the event topics seemed to correlate with the topics and conversations that take place in the LIS 654 Information and profession course and the Data Analytics and Visualization program at Pratt Institute. The Bloomberg event was created to educate and demonstrate how data is being used for social good across many sectors here in our city, state and the world at large. The  idea of information, its recording and use in society and how it has and continues to impact us  is important to promote the how and why of what is being done. This manifestation and clarity of importance helps make the case during policy making and other situations where there is need for justification of the application and relevance of data. It was impressive to experience the discussions as well as see first hand  at this event from a wide array of industry professionals currently in the information field, how Information topics like archiving, records and methodologies used in research and other topics discussed in class were being used.  The conversations that have occurred in the LIS 654 course class have been focused on information, how it has been generated over the years and archived and most especially its role in society. The understanding of how information has impacted culture has also been touched upon and with the rise of the digital age and also the impact digital media has in restructuring traditional ways of recording and archiving information. Through the years information has had the  power to shape societies at large. Moving forward, it will be imperative to take a look at how data and information is being handled and explore if these techniques are still up to date and can meet the need. And also how best  to capture and deploy all this information being harnessed at an unbelievable rate viable ways. Also other things to think of is the way data is being archived, will these be viable methods in the next 15 to 20 years?

With the increase of Big data being generated from multiple media outlets the challenge remains how all this data can be collected, processed and manipulated in a fair way to create lasting positive impact and change across our societies. To achieve this there will need to be increase in avenues where data can presented and collected to and from all stakeholders in an understandable way so they can understand the importance of data and make proper use of the information generated from it. To this effort, while there are many unanswered questions to data, its generation and possible applications, it is encouraging to see like minded professionals gather to reason and push towards a world with more answers for questions being asked with the aid of data.


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