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Afghan Civilian Casualty Explorer

I have scraped three sources of Afghan civilian casualty data; UNAMA, ISAF and ARM. The originals can all be found here. They were obtained by Science correspondent John Bohannon after embedding with military forces in Kabul and Kandahar in October 2010. They are in Excel format. A bad format. Excel is data manipulation software, not for displaying data. This is an example where all three sources produced data of high interest but none in formats which make the data useable.

Because there are three different sources, there are three different collection methods. Date ranges are also different. The Afghan Rights Monitor (ARM) give the smallest grained data, collecting information from particular incidents. The others collect larger grained data, aggregating incidents into types and regional commands. NATOs International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) split the south of Afghanistan into two regions of command on 19 June 2009 (no doubt owing to US operations in Helmand), however the data is split at the beginning of 2009 (I had to clarify this inconsistency with LTJG Bob Page, Media Officer for the Regional Command Southwest Public Affairs Office in Afghanistan).

As I’m learning to code and calling myself a data journalist, every project I choose to undertake for the sake of ‘learning’ has to have a journalistic aspect. In building this widget (with a lot of help from Ross Jones) I haven’t made a traditional ‘story’, rather something that is functional in a news gathering sense. I got the idea from the Iraq Body Count. Their aim is to find names for the individual casualties of war, telling the story through the people rather than the numbers.

If you’ve been to the Holocaust Memorial museum, you’ll know how important individual stories are to understanding the impact of war. I thought I would try and make something simple that would help identify and tick off an individual casualty from the data points. If someone is looking to find out more about how a love one died and who might have been responsible then they need as much data on the event. The Afghan Casualty Explorer is very basic and a lot more could be done with the data by proper coders or a newsroom team with programming expertise.

I decided to make a tool in the computer-assisted-reporting fashion. My take on data journalism being use tools to aid in the news gathering process and not just the mediation process.

There’s a Excel scraping guide on ScraperWiki for anyone who have data trapped in Excel sheets..


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