Data is the raw material used to derive statistical information about the past. People often hope that if we collect data on important topics and present it in beautiful charts, tables, or maps then something good will happen in the future. For example, will data on the number of civilians killed in the Iraq conflict help prevent future deaths in similar circumstances? Data on civilian deaths during a conflict is important. But, there is no evidence that stand-alone data on civilian casualties has helped prevent future deaths in conflict. Statistical information should be used to make meaningful qualitative arguments about important topics. Statistical information is usually the beginning of a story. Data and statistical information is often one small piece of a puzzle in trying to make good stuff happen in the future.
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