Chapter 3: Analysis
Is human health connected to the health of the planet? Does a degraded environment necessarily reflect a degraded society? Can data be used to explore and express these questions?
These were questions it was hoped this project would answer conclusively, and in the affirmative. This realisation, on reflection, reveals a level of personal bias which may not have given the project the objectivity necessary to properly explore the research through the creation of a digital artefact. The data should have been collected from an entirely objective standpoint, collated, connected, cleaned, and considered from a disinterested perspective. This complete objectivity turned out to be impossible given the secondary nature of the data and the wealth of choice within that data. Data had to be chosen selectively for these reasons, with the resultant choices being naturally influenced by an element of subconscious bias which likely stemmed from an emotional connection to the subject matter.
The broad range of data available to explore this topic initially gave the impression these questions could be explored with ease; however, the reality was somewhat less clear and straightforward. The choice to use quantitative data requires accompanying rigorous statistical analysis to seek out patterns, and to examine the strengths and limitations of that data. Data cannot speak for itself; it is flat and lifeless without human interaction. This reflective revelation has been the hook upon which the apparent disconnection between the expectations for this project and its tangible results may hang. Using worldwide data should provide clear comparisons; awareness of national separations and distinctions is common, accompanied by (perhaps stereotypical) assumptions relating to national levels of wealth, health, infrastructure, and services which would colour views on what data should evidence. The choice to use worldwide data was beneficial for the direct comparison it allows, however, the issue of simply having too much data meant that condensing and being selective were necessary, which may have also taken a level of objectivity away from the data used. The challenge of maintaining the scope of the data to allow clear comparison while condensing it into a manageable size resulted in the data journalism article being less conclusive than had been hoped. The question of the objectivity of the data itself is an interesting point for analysis. Data is collected for specific reasons; they may be economic, personal, social, or political. These subjective foundations for the collection of data mean that data may not be considered objective, but without knowledge of the background motivation for the initial data collection, this is an element that cannot be effectively explored or justified here.
The data used was sourced from large organisations and national databases, and as such can be assumed (if we assume that data is not necessarily objective) to support a common, or “mainstream” narrative. This narrative is endorsed by the patriarchal systems to which it belongs, with the data supporting this narrative being a product of these systems and therefore arguably inextricable from them. This presents an intellectual entanglement; to attempt to criticise a system from within that system using the structures and measures of that system becomes philosophically challenging. No outside methods are available, because the patriarchal structures have permeated into the very fabric of the thought, measure, and comparison this research seeks to challenge. This understanding demonstrates the vital need for wide-reaching systemic change; if there is no alternative in thought process, then there cannot be true freedom of thought. Human thought, awareness and the ability to question have also been enslaved and subordinated by these systems of oppression, their tentacles reach into every facet of existence.
The academic reasoning behind the data selection and analysis for this project was that measures of human health can be analysed by selecting data which is relevant to quality of life and wellbeing across the world, and comparing those measures country by country. The health of the planet, or the environment, can be analysed by similarly selecting data which is relevant to the quality of the natural environment (considered to be its natural state; unpolluted, and its quality of existence; freedom to exist without subordination and utilisation). With so many possible underlying factors that contribute to the lives behind numerical data, it is difficult not to question the reasons for a higher suicide rate in Japan than Australia, or a higher prevalence of overweight in the U.S population than the U.K, for example.
On consideration, it becomes clear that this is a natural quality of quantitative data; it is heartless, and represents human life experience reduced to numbers. This raises a philosophical conflict between the choice of data exploration as a topic, and the idea of the interconnected nature of all existence. Data is dead; in real-life it means nothing, because it does not explain anything tangible, it does not really connect to the reality of life. Data is reductive, it makes people numbers; dehumanising and generalising them into nothingness. The ethos underlying this research is that humans and nature are vital interconnected aspects of the same expression of life-force, which is why data exploration may not have been the ideal methodological choice for exploring this subject, because the very nature of quantitative data contradicts the ethos of all life as intrinsically interconnected. On reflection, this conflict seems the likely reason for the feeling of personal disconnection between the subject matter, it’s expression through data, and the creation of an exploratory digital artefact. In trying to explore essential humanity and connection through the sterility of numerical data, the research itself becomes disconnected from its ideological foundations, and becomes yet another victim of the systems it seeks to question.
High expectations for the quality and impact of the final artefact had to be balanced with what was realistically achievable both technically and within the time-frame. The cognitive connection between the artefact and the research, while established in the literature, was somewhat lacking in practice. The attempt to present data in a meaningful and compelling manner became a challenge between ideology and methodology that was not easily rectified. The idea of providing a solid and intellectual connection between the health of humans and the health of the planet, and communicating and interrogating this idea through the creation of a digital artefact was more vibrant in imagination than in digital expression. The reality of the connection is not so clear, because the depth of the research subject combined with the density of the data and the resulting data visualisations did not necessarily combine to create the clear visual expressions of data that were intended.
During this project, it became clear that a cognitive shift away from the focus on the specific oppression of women discussed in ecofeminist literature would be necessary. To effectively explore the question of the connections between human and Earth health (rather than only female human and Earth health) this movement in thought and analysis was vital, especially if the need for true equality was to be the driving force behind the work. The need for this shift stems from an understanding that it is the nature of the patriarchal system itself that is oppressive to all life; not just women. True equality must come from a movement in perspective to include all life; including an awareness that men are as oppressed as women, and to focus entirely on the oppression of women would be to deny the essential nature of men as humans equally entitled to freedom from oppression and hierarchy. This shift in perspective is not to deny that women are oppressed, (“The World’s Women 2015,” n.d.) by the patriarchal systems, the structures of power within them, and the men who seek to view them as property to be owned and utilised in the same way as they view nature. However, the need for a true removal of dualistic thought requires this cognitive shift to an understanding of life with no hierarchy whatsoever, as this better represents true emancipation for all.
The question of how to effectively measure social degradation raises issues with the decisions and choices made within the data used to express argued disconnections. Education would seem to be an appropriate measure, but when considered as a facet of the patriarchal systems which are in question, this becomes an ineffective expression of human health and wellbeing. First, social degradation needed to be defined, and that definition became problematic considering the contributory factors involved.
The focus needed to be on human health and wellbeing, and not on social degradation, however defined. The reality was that to effectively measure social degradation, data would need to be examined spanning a certain time-period. If crime rates were looked at for example, then it would make sense that if knife crime went up one year, then we can plausibly assume a level of social degradation in that year. If the rate fluctuates over a ten-year period, then can we justifiably say that society has degraded, or is it the case that there are simply movements in the ways these things are measured? Health and health outcomes, compared to environmental degradation, both of which can be expressed through data and connected with one another, became the measures by which the twin dominations of humans and nature must be measured.
Activism within health would have been a relevant area to focus on, and very much relates to the issues raised in this research due to the requirement for activism within ecofeminist thought, and the prevalence of activism within environmental and non-biomedical health movements (Huang, 2011). The need to bring peripheral issues into mainstream awareness, and the political policies of neo-liberal individualism (Laverack, 2012) which have caused a degradation to the quality of life of humans, animals, and nature for the benefit of corporations and governments demonstrates the relevance of a focus on activism. Activism, defined as “energetic advocacy in a civil society” (Huang, 2011), is supported by the need for awareness of both science and politics in activist groups to effectively plan action and strategy. Information is needed for activism to have any meaningful impact, but much of the information needed is not easily accessible, combine this inaccessibility with the prevalence of data distortion within the biomedical field (Gotzsche, 2012) meant that sourcing data in relation to activism was somewhat problematic, and the reality of exploring this through the creation of a digital artefact seemed beyond the scope of this project.
Has the data chosen effectively expressed human disconnection from nature? Has a clear link been made between that disconnection from nature and human disconnection from self? The connections here are on a more intellectual than a statistical level; in trying to express a philosophical concept through data, and in expecting that data to demonstrate something almost intangible, this research project has exposed the very real disconnections of humans from their true human nature. We live in a world permeated with technology, where living things of real value have been reduced to numbers on a screen. Data cannot show us how we are disconnected from nature, not really, because it is a feeling, a knowing, a spiritual disconnect, and there is no way to express a feeling through the sterility of data and static technology. Language is the link between the data and the lived experience, so in choosing data journalism as a means to express this data, there is some hope that the narrative provided can somehow bridge the gap between the dead and the alive, between the unreal and the real, between the tangible and the intangible, and can somehow bring to light the need for humans to get in touch with their immaterial feelings rather than their material desires, and in so doing, reconnect with their true, natural, interconnected selves.