WRITTEN ON June 2nd, 2007 BY William Heath AND STORED IN Design: Co-creation, Online Maps, Power of Information, What do we want?

The power of shared open access to government date was proved 150 ago with the case of the cholera outbreak and the Broad Street pump. Sam points me to this on John Udell’s blog:

If you’re an Edward Tufte fan, like me, you’ll know the story of the 1854 cholera outbreak in London, and of John Snow’s map which showed deaths clustered around the Broad Street pump and which proved that the cause was bad water, not bad air (miasma). That story plays a central in Steven’s current book, and in his talk he points out that Snow was part of a larger cast of characters. One important but neglected figure was Henry Whitehead, a local vicar who collaborated with Snow. Another was William Farr, a government statistician. Although he initially favored the incorrect miasma theory, Farr had the good sense to publish the data that enabled others to find the right answer.

if you won the facts you may not necessarily see the answer. Someone else might make better use of it. They’ll definitely make different use of it.

There’s also a nice Stewart Brand summary of Steven Johnson’s talk about thinking on multiple scales of both time and space. Part of the Long Now lecture series), I think that’s was kicked off this whole thread off (which I haven’t really unravelled – I’ve got what I want and it’s a sunny day outside).

4 Responses to “London’s history proves the public benefit of public data”

marek wrote on June 2nd, 2007 1:09 pm :

Though Udell’s post doesn’t explicitly make the connection, all this is drawn from Johnson’s book The Ghost Map – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0713999748/1667 – well worth reading for all sorts of reasons, but for ideal government buffs particularly as an example of public policy making in conditions of uncertainty (to say nothing of downright ignorance). That remains very relevant, since it more or less describes all public policy making.

Ideal Gov administrator wrote on June 2nd, 2007 1:21 pm :

Thanks Marek. I’m a bit wooly on all this and have never done (nor ever will) most of the background reading I need. When it draws on community wisdom I find this blog works really well. If it’s just a subset of what I can get my head round or just a place to leave stuff I dont want to lose then it’s far from ideal .

Ian Brown wrote on June 2nd, 2007 2:22 pm :

Richard Dawkin’s excellent latest book (The God Delusion) has a chapter on the human problems of thinking outside a very limited range of spatial scales. Edward Tufte’s classic The Visual Display of Quantitative Information has a spectacular exposition of the cholera story

Richard S wrote on June 2nd, 2007 10:08 pm :

Recognizing the problem was one step; then a solution was needed:

In Lambeth, behind the Fire HQ, there’s an extraordinarily ornate crumbling Victorian building. The carved ‘relief’ above the main door is “listed” but the building is not marked.

It’s the surviving corner of the Doulton pottery HQ.

Doulton invented salt-glazed ceramic sewer pipes: These prevented seepage into the drinking water sources: Doulton became rich; Became Royal Doulton…

However, many people were poisoned by fumes from the Lambeth pottery kilns and other industries…