A Good Reason 2.0

Welcome to my blog! I created a comprehensive dataset of stay-at-home restrictions in Europe, which you can explore by clicking “Explore Data” in the upper right corner. Here, I will post analyses of the causes and effects of lockdown policies with a strong focus on stay-at-home restrictions. I will review relevant academic literature, non-academic sources I find relevant, and last but not least analyse the data I collected myself.

I first uploaded “A Good Reason” in July 2021 (here you can see the what it looked like). The content was mostly identical to the one you can find here now. As today, my motivation was twofold: On the one hand, I wanted to contribute to academic research on stay-at-home policies. On the other hand, I made my opposition to such policies very clear. But more than half a year after first publishing, it is clear that my project hasn’t achieved the reach I hoped for. Neither has “A Good Reason” been used in any academic research, nor has it contributed to raise awareness for the downsides of stay-at-home orders, nor has it connected people in opposition of these measures.

And I think I understand why: To contribute to the academic literature, I would have needed to make the first step. For some months, I planned to apply for PhD scholarships. But I never did, partly because I never felt that what I’ve done was good enough. I’ve only done a non-systematic literature review and provided some not too well-formatted descriptive data. Because I knew my data wasn’t complete, I only reached out to other policy trackers to compare our data and correct mistakes. I thought that was the logical next step before doing any further analyses. I still think that would be the ideal way to go forward, but to put it bluntly: this way, I don’t get anything done. I thought double checking the data against other datasets would be a much quicker and smoother process. But in other projects, hundreds of volunteers are involved, so I had to communicate with different people for different countries. I had some productive exchanges with people from the OxCGRT policy tracker, which lead to correcting some mistakes on both sides, but I also had less productive exchanges where I received no answer, or where someone took offence in my criticising of their data. These difficulties discouraged me.

For nearly the entire second half of 2021, I wanted to work on this project, but effectively didn’t. Because I wasn’t fully convinced of the site as it was, I didn’t reach out to many people, thus I didn’t get any feedback after the initial wave. That I got no feedback in turn discouraged me to keep working on the project. It felt increasingly useless, and I’ve already invested many months in this website that I could have used for other endeavours. It’s ironic: I’ve been opposed to lockdowns, not least because they make many people’s life more miserable. But I end up making my own life more miserable than I’d need to by my obsession with the topic and all the unpaid and unpleasant work I invest in this project. Maybe I should have stopped working on this long ago. Maybe I fell for the sunk cost fallacy. But I still believe that I can have an impact. A friend invited me to her podcast, and I keep telling her to wait a bit more, until my website is ready; until I am ready. Even if it’s not going to happen, the perspective to reach a broader public was a main motivation for me to dedicate more time to A Good Reason again.

Compared to the earlier version of this website, there are two major changes:

  1. I use the statistical language R for all data visualisation and data exploration tools now. Everything looks better now, and it will continue to improve. Because another main motivation for me to keep this project running is that I am doing online classes in data science. Even if this project might not have any meaningful impact, I will have learned a lot on the way. As I will mention in some of the coming blog posts, I think data illiteracy has contributed a lot to suboptimal policy making. To make good decisions, it’s crucial to understand the data, but to have an impact on others, it’s at least as crucial to visualize the data properly.
  2. Aside from the data, everything is a blog now. When I first published A Good Reason, I decided against using a blog theme, mainly because I didn’t want to commit myself to post regularly. Furthermore, I planned to convert this page (or most of it) into an academic paper. That’s why I chose to stuff all the data analyses, literature review, theoretical considerations, etc. in a long wall of text, which I named “motivation”. Ironically, there’s hardly anything less motivating than dozens of pages of text without any immediately visible structure, and without easy internal navigation. I didn’t make any adjustments in the text partly because I didn’t even want to read it myself. Last summer, I was too exhausted after months of research, and just wanted to get this page online. But clearly, this was poor web design. By converting all texts into smaller blog posts, I hope to bring in a clearer structure, make the site more visually appealing, and make it easier for myself to post updates.

A few words about myself and my background: I’m Jean Merlin von Agris, a 1990-born German. I have a Master’s degree in Development Economics from the University of Göttingen. After graduating, I worked in development cooperation, agriculture (as a volunteer), and public statistics. Since early 2021 I’ve been living in Sweden because I care about my freedom to go out whenever I want. In Sweden I’ve volunteered on farms and in a hostel so far and in March, I will take up a temporary employment in customer service. In the future, I’d like to be paid for working with data. To get the necessary skills, I’m enrolled in online courses in data science. Aside from being outside (both in urban and rural areas) I like cooking and eating, having interesting conversations with people, playing football and chess, gardening and many other things.

Jean von Agris