The Global Terrorism Database (GTD) is an open-source database that keeps up with terrorism worldwide and includes events going back to 1970. Updated annually, the GTD has data on domestic and international incidents with over 125,000 cases documented. It’s the most comprehensive database of terrorist events in the world.
But it’s not perfect.
Big data might be large in scope, but it doesn’t necessarily give a good indication of reality. Methods of data collection and data reporting can change the story significantly. If the story is based on years of data, changes to methods of collection and reporting may also skew the story.
When it comes to recognizing and predicting trends in global terrorism, the story matters. Policy makers and the media pull information from the GTD with the expectation that it’s telling a consistent story over time. However, the methodology for collecting and reporting data is shifting.
This big data problem is not unique to the GTD. Consistency is key to analyzing big data for trends, and when data is coming in from multiple sources, consistency is a major challenge.
So, should we trust the GTD? It’s loaded with important information that can help us draw conclusions and prevent future attacks. However, understanding how the database is flawed is key to making the best use of the information provided. Then again, if we can’t trust the database to draw accurate conclusions, it might be time to find a new source of information.
What do you think?