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Time to Rely on Data

Al-Khabar, Kuwait, May 27

In order to understand the course of events around us, it is necessary to deal with reality in a scientific manner, on the basis of observable data and not on the basis of political interests and benefits. Whatever topic we investigate as journalists, researchers, or policymakers must be based on real rigorous analysis and not on pre-existing attitudes and sentiments that lead to biased results. Here are three brief examples of how objective data can inform policy in groundbreaking ways. First, Dr. Ayed Al-Ajmi of the Technological College in Kuwait sought to understand whether Sunnis and Shiites in his country live together or separately. Using geographic sampling, he discovered that although individuals may not be motivated by sectarian identity when choosing their place of residence, there is a de facto division between the two religious communities. Therefore, although sectarianism and racism are not very prevalent, there are still deep divides within the society he observed. Second, the notable researcher Hisham Al-Hashemi recently participated in a symposium on the Popular Mobilization Forces in Iraq. A renowned expert on armed groups, he provided figures on the number of formations that make up the PMF, its doctrines, and the religious and racial makeup of its personnel. Through his analysis, Al-Hashemi revealed how, contrary to common perception, the makeup of the PMF is not a homogeneous one, but rather a mixture of partisan, religious, tribal, and regional subgroups. In order for the Iraqi government to deal with this movement and bring it under the state’s control, it must understand its composition accurately. Third, Michael Knights from the Liver Institute recently presented a study on ISIS, in which he analyzed the number of attacks the organization launched in recent months, with a breakdown by the type of weapon used, the locations targeted, and the severity and accuracy of the various operations. By doing so, he created a predictive model that would reveal the Islamic State’s next attack. These three examples show how data-based models can bolster and enhance our decision-making processes, without succumbing to political predispositions. The problem is that many commentators refuse to understand this, either because they lack the tools to carry out these analyses on their own, or because they’re guided by special interests. Either way, the result is the same: misinformation and fake news. – Hassan Al-Mustafa (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)