Observations Body Politic

Too much information

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4341 (Published 12 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4341
  1. Nigel Hawkes, freelance journalist
  1. nigel.hawkes1{at}btinternet.com

The facts don’t always speak for themselves, and the prime minister may come to regret thinking that they do

The UK prime minister, David Cameron, wants to liberate a tsunami of public data. In the interests of transparency, not a cough or splutter in national government, local government, schools, the courts, or, of course, the NHS, will go unrecorded and made available to everybody.

The plans, announced on 7 July, include releasing data ranging from the prescribing habits of individual general practices to the success rates of clinical teams in hospitals, not forgetting the complaints made about every hospital (BMJ 2011;343:d4415, doi:10.1136/bmj.d4415). It is hard to argue that more information can ever be bad, but it’s permissible to wonder whether undigested data are quite the blessing that Mr Cameron imagines.

In his memoir A Journey, the former prime minister Tony Blair makes few acknowledgments of error in his 10 years of office. But one thing he does regret doing is introducing legislation on freedom of information. He came to regard it as a curse, making government much harder. “You idiot. You naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop,” he writes. “There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at …

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