The Dark Side of Data | NAAEE

The hub for environmental education professional development

The Dark Side of Data

It can be easy to think of data as something that is always "true" and totally neutral. But... it's not. There are plenty of ways that data can be misused and misconstrued for harm. As educators and nonprofit leaders, we need to be not only aware of these issues but also actively work to deconstruct them and share about them with others.

Take a look at this 2015 article from Vu Le - "Weaponized data: How the obsession with data has been hurting marginalized communities" and let us know what you think.

Is data equity and/or the "dark side of data" something that you talk about with your students or colleagues? How can we as environmental educators be cognizant of the ways that data can be misused or misconstrued for harm? How can we actively uproot these practices?

If you're looking for more resources on how to center equity when working with data, take a look at this framework from We All Count.

Thank you for this post, Sarah! Yes, it seems that data can be used as a gatekeeper and to shut-down/avoid conversation and nuance. Do you have any suggestions on where data is used well in environmental education? Thank you.

Great question! I think when EE data takes an intersectional approach - considering the impacts on people, wildlife, and the environment + considering the historical, social, and economic contexts, it is best. In a class with students, you might consider unpacking an issue like human-wildlife conflict (for example) by exploring the human impact, the environmental impact, and the social/cultural/political factors that are influencing the conflict.