SPIN is pleased to share SPINster Brian Rappert’s latest publication: Counting the dead and making the dead count: configuring data and accountability.
This article examines the relation between counting, counts and accountability. It does so by comparing the responses of the British government to deaths associated with Covid-19 in 2020 to its responses to deaths associated with the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Similarities and dissimilarities between the cases regarding what counted as data, what data were taken to count, what data counted for, and how data were counted provide the basis for considering how the bounds of democratic accountability are constituted. Based on these two cases, the article sets out the metaphors of leaks and cascades as ways of characterising the data practices whereby counts, counting and accountability get configured. By situating deaths associated with Covid-19 against previous experience with deaths from war, the article also proposes how claims to truth and ignorance might figure in any future official inquiry into the handling of the pandemic.
Brian Rappert is a Professor of Science, Technology and Public Affairs at the University of Exeter. His long-term interest has been the examination of the strategic management of information; particularly in the relation to armed conflict. For more information see brianrappert.net.