Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Using visual tools to reveal the human impact of drones


How many people are killed by drones every year in Pakistan? Moreover, how many drone attacks are launched? Most of us would not be able to give an accurate answer to these questions; however, a project developed by Pitch Interactive is seeking to change this.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind provides an interactive visualization of the total number of drone fatalities, attacks and child victims in Pakistan. It was developed in response to the perceived inadequacies of previous reporting in highlighting the impact of drone warfare on civilians.

The project begins with a short narrative introduction of drone usage in Pakistan, which the audience cannot skip - a decision that Katarina Madrid, from Pitch Interactive, says was made deliberately.

"We believe you should take the time to really comprehend what this visualization is informing you about. We wanted to find a narrative that drew to the tragedy of this. We really wanted to convey that tragedy," she explained.

Following the narrative, the audience can explore an interactive timeline of drone attacks. By hovering over the columns underneath the years, the number of total deaths and strikes for that year are revealed, as well as the impact of each separate drone.

For Madrid, the decision to incorporate each individual strike, sets the Out of Sight, Out of Mind project apart from other attempts to report on the issue.

"Almost every case has a description of the person who was hit and ultimately killed; mothers, fathers, grandparents, children, brothers and sisters, they are all represented in this visualization. So often we just see a bar graph and think it’s just numbers, but to acknowledge that every tick in that graph was an actual person that you can read about was what made ours so compelling and some-what more adequate than what was available at the time. The data showed that it was the innocent bystanders that were being killed more often than not."


About the data

The primary data used in this visualization comes from a dataset maintained by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), while the list of high-profile targets (the white squares) comes from the New America Foundation.

Because the US Government does not disclose strike information, the data must be manually collected on the ground by reporters. At the moment, the BIJ data includes reports from Dawn, Express Tribune, The Nation, Jang, Geo TV and The News International, as well as credible researchers and legal evidence.

According to the Out of Sight, Out of Mind project page, one major challenge working with this data is that stories and estimates vary between sources. To combat these inconsistencies, a minimum and a maximum number of possible fatalities are recorded and the average whole number between these estimates for each attack is used. In a few instances there were fatalities confirmed, but the estimated number of fatalities was not obtainable. In these cases, the team omitted the fatalities to avoid misleading results.

Explore the project here.