In a New York Times investigation into the Syrian government’s network of torture chambers, reporter Anne Barnard pointed to the important role data played in calculating the human toll.
“We redoubled efforts to cover the story, as human rights groups steadily compiled data on dozens of torture facilities, tens of thousands of disappeared Syrians and thousands of executions of civilian oppositionists after sham trials,” wrote Barnard, a former New York Times Beirut bureau chief and veteran of covering the armed conflict.
Her reporting noted: “Nearly 128,000 have never emerged, and are presumed to be either dead or still in custody, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, an independent monitoring group that keeps the most rigorous tally. Nearly 14,000 were `killed under torture.’”
Statistics on conflicts are widely available, but how do journalists identify the right datasets to use? How do they evaluate data sources among the many out there? What should they be looking for?
“More data is not necessarily better data. We need to know where it is coming from, what is included and what is not. Reporters should not take all data as unbiased facts,” said Andreas Foro Tollefsen, senior researcher for the Peace Research Institute, Oslo, a main player in the conflict data field.
Reviewing leading producers of conflict event datasets and their specialties helps narrow the search. Below are three examples of data collection projects often cited in media reports and scholarly studies.
Sources on conflict
- Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UCDP): Datasets on conflict and peacekeeping including peace agreements, intrastate armed conflict, non-state conflict, one-sided violence, and conflict termination. Offers datasets on organized violence and peacemaking, which can be downloaded for free through the UCDP downloads website. Illustrative charts, graphs, and maps are also available.
- Armed Conflict Location & Event Dataset (ACLED): Described as a disaggregated data collection, analysis and crisis mapping platform. Collects real-time data on the locations, dates, actors, fatalities, and types of reported political violence and protest events across the globe. Users can explore data through an interactive dashboard.
- Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO): Explores how conflicts erupt and can be resolved; investigates how different kinds of violence affect people and examines how societies tackle crises. Their data projects aid in the study of the duration of violence and track figures for yearly combat deaths. Active research projects are listed alphabetically and include dozens of topics.