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Infographic Tool Offers a Detailed Look at 3,000 Deaths by U.S. Drone Attacks

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Now that Pakistan’s former military ruler Gen. Pervez Musharraf has returned home in time for the country’s May elections, many human rights advocates are concerned that the longstanding surge in U.S. drone strikes within that nation’s borders will grow even larger. Musharraf is widely believed, despite protestations to the contrary, to have given the U.S. his tacit consent for launching its first drone attacks against suspected terrorists in his country in 2004.

Although a certain amount of information about the drone attacks, which have also resulted in civilian deaths, has become available in the past few years, few reports have managed to humanize the statistics.

That’s the thinking behind a new data visualization tool by Pitch Interactive founder Wesley Grubbs and programmer Nick Yahnke. Using data from the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the pair charted the total number of drone deaths in Pakistan, from the first known CIA strike on June 17, 2004 to its most recent, March 22, 2013.

Grubbs says he hopes the visualization will help Americans comprehend the size and scope of drone strikes in Pakistan, where the U.S. has targeted high-profile Taliban and alQaeda militants as part of the War on Terror. “We think it will give people a sense of pause,” Grubbs says. “We want people to say, wow, this is what 3,000 deaths looks like.”

drone strike data visualization, pakistan, pitch interactive, 'out of sight, out of mind'

Pitch Interactive Data Visualization 'Out of Sight, Out of Mind' aims to make drone strike deaths understandable

Grubbs was shocked by how little Americans know about the impact U.S. drone strikes are having in the Middle East and beyond. Without stories from returning soldiers who fought on the ground in these countries, Grubbs said, Americans have no way of understanding the societal impacts of warfare in the region. “It’s completely disconnected from us,” Grubbs says.

The team’s colorful display is meant to counter this trend. Grubbs says he and Yahnke designed “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” to show the data in a simple, succinct way. Traditionally, most infographics on the subject, he said, have focused on simple maps with circles above them indicating the total number of drone-related deaths in the region. But these types of visualizations aren’t sufficient, Grubbs says, adding that “most Americans don’t even know where Pakistan is.”

As an alternative, Grubbs team sought out a means of communicating the societal cost of drone warfare in a way that is universally digestible. In their interactive piece tiny colored squares represent the victims of drone strikes. The color of each square, then, tells the viewer if the victim is a child, a civilian, a high-profile target, or a member of an “other” category.

This “other” category was a subject of contention for Grubbs’ team: the term includes “military combatants,” or, according to the U.S. military’s definition, any Pakistani male of military age. “‘Combatants’ include anyone engaging in hostilities in an armed conflict on behalf of a party to the conflict,” said Pentagon Lt. Col. John Dorrian in an email. Grubbs’s team was hesitant to use the military’s term because they felt it was a “misrepresentation of the facts.”

Rice University Information Technology Fellow Christopher Bronk says that while the term potentially implicates all males in Pakistan between 15 and 40, that is a sacrifice the U.S. has decided is worth making. “The U.S. has managed the terrorism problem effectively for over a decade now,” says Bronk. “Drone strikes are an important part of that.”

Grubbs and his team are working to expand the visualization. In the next few weeks, they hope to incorporate images of high-profile targets killed by strikes, an intensive process which he said will take concerted effort.

About the Author: Science, health and environment reporter based in Brooklyn, New York. Follow on Twitter @erbrod.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. drafter 3:56 pm 04/1/2013

    I would think somebody in these countries has tried to shoot drones down. I wonder if there were any successes and would our government actually report truthfully about them.

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  2. 2. dbtinc 4:33 pm 04/1/2013

    So, let me see if I understand. Better that our kids get killed as opposed to theirs. A lot of bad people have been taken care off a lot more efficiently. Sorry, collateral damage is a cost of war. Now the question should be asked as to whether we have overstayed our welcome.

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  3. 3. ndoris 5:33 pm 04/1/2013

    “This “other” category was a subject of contention for Grubbs’ team”
    Sounds like a real pain. Maybe they should have used a simpler dataset, like maybe “deaths from attacks on World Trade Centers”.
    If these guys can figure out how to stop terrorism, I’ll figure out a way to stop efficiently killing terrorists.

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  4. 4. SpeedcurveSteve 6:56 pm 04/1/2013

    I can’t believe the cavalier attitude I’m seeing here. Civilian/non-combatant deaths should ALWAYS be taken seriously. “dbtinc”, if we use your moral yardstick, (better their kids than ours), are we any better than the insane animals who attacked us on 9/11? “ndoris”, if we simply want to find an “efficient way to kill terrorists” without taking these innocent deaths into consideration, then perhaps the MOST efficient way to deal with the problem of “killing terrorists” might be to just carpet nuke any country that might be harboring those individuals. Sure, we’ll kill millions of non-combatants, but, by golly, we’ll get those terrorists, too.

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  5. 5. hanmeng 8:38 pm 04/1/2013

    Non-combatant deaths just serve to fuel anger and hatred towards the U.S., helping recruit more terrorists. Obama counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, unless there is explicit intelligence proving them innocent…after they’re dead. Note also that this is just Pakistan. Other countries are also targeted.

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  6. 6. totohanthala 10:15 pm 04/1/2013

    thank you

    The Silver Drone with Coca-Cola Cluster
    by michael hall

    What audacity it must take to set yourself apart from those who serve in the pressure cooker
    for a kid gangsta of capitalism to sip a cold coke tightly clasped
    while the other hand is stroking a joystick & with just gentle pressure
    8000 miles away human beings who have never done his or hers any harm are now droned into bugsplat

    What exceptional bravery this act of aggressive violence must trigger
    for s/he might suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome or bear a blister on the finger
    with nerves of steel ne’er to complain for lives are at stake so s/he carries on & pushes the button of terror
    careful, what if the soda spilled thereby rendering the keyboard useless? Oh the horror!

    To wreak out death upon terrorists diabolically disguised as sheep-herding children, ah the discerning bravery
    to slaughter dangerous pregnant women at a bridal shower, what pluck & heroism
    to kill marauding medics & first-responders daring to help the wounded from your earlier kill, irreproachable daring
    such gallantry and fearlessness one must exhibit to slaughter mourners at a funeral procession

    So to show recognition to the brave souls who kill at command at the press of a knob 1/2 a world yonder a distinguished ‘warfare’ medal of honor has been created to award those who have no honor
    announced with grandiose fanfare & full flags a’ flapping just the other day by war criminal DS Panetta
    this will outrank the bronze star, the purple heart & what a triumph is that america?

    Such a propaganda coup d’état by the bureaucrats in subterranean dusty think tanks deem
    spun a wonderful way to legitimize a most immoral & illegal act that defines odium
    as they flim-flammed & came up with this ‘combat’ decoration for a most despicable accomplishment
    still i wonder what lucky american school kid will be the first to touch one or to toss it down a toilet

    Back at home in the united states of mordor vat is known now as da faterland
    a great cackle of cheering among thunderous applause droned at every school, church & walmart throughout the homeland
    to praise & pay tribute to those daring war-idols who’ve earned such a distinguished medal confer
    the much coveted and respected; ‘Silver Drone with Coca-Cola Cluster’

    For who else should earn by total disregard to personal safety with such displays of video gallantry & virtual valor won
    nobody else could deserve such a high tribute & renowned award squealed Leon Panetta from atop a nefarious pile of splattered blood & bleached broken bones swept under the rug by the embedded media & acquiescent proletariat
    these extraordinary actions by lightening slight of hand manipulation upon a joystick of discriminating death with unthinking critical process performed by our blue-blooded obedient hired guns
    to illegally & immorally murder anyone anywhere anytime for any reason above the rule of law is now the definition of American Hero & the legalities for the justification of it are classified… ‘secret’

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  7. 7. totohanthala 10:16 pm 04/1/2013

    The White Letter from The White House Smells not like a White Rose & it Stinks to High Heaven

    First obama murdered children inside of foreign nations
    so the people shopped at walmart to demonstrate their displeasure
    then obama assassinated children and other innocents in countries we were not war with
    so flags & troops were honored at every sports game around the land in garrulousness gratitude

    Some lawyers screamed foul as did a few with conscience akin to Chomsky, Hedges & Blum
    but their voices were drowned out by the silence of the bored & apathetic, the meekly submissive
    still the good loyal citizens did scream for more guns as their constitutional right
    & american idol worship is supposed to be a killer tonight so guess which item takes priority?

    Consequently obama & the exalted mighty military murdered an unarmed american across the pond defecating on due process by defacto procedure
    so what did WE THE PEOPLE then do you ask?
    they gulped downed a blue pill tunneled their head deeper into the sand so to breath more patriotically
    hush hush now little children its all a transparent secret nothing to see here just move along

    Meanwhile a depressed american teenager with his cousin out looking for his murdered father
    stopped along a dirt road at dusk in the heart of a vast desert praying for his dad
    sitting around the fire in the middle of a cookout , just these two american kids
    when without warning silence was broken by an act of terrorism as they were subsequently droned to smithereens by the us military

    Ah but some fires did light up more intensely this time
    so obama & his bunch of hooligans had to reluctantly crawl out of their dark dungeon
    they argued with legal thickets of sharpened stakes, moats, pickets, shielded by secrets & lies atop turrets no one could reach
    through a tapestry of intricate semantics innuendos & bizarre definitions they declared they were upholding the constitution oxymoronically tagging this odium as wise and ethical

    Claiming that the research was so sensitive & so secret that it could not be revealed
    our divine heroes would then be exposed to violence & that would be quite unamerican
    if that happened whistleblowers then would be scapegoated & we know what happens to them
    do you really think that renditions & retaliatory vengeance are just deeds of the recent past?

    Cattle mooed meekly as they contentedly chewed the crass cud of american idol worship
    embedded sheep bleated reverently to the wolves in wool via indoctrination by years of cognitive brainwashing and dissonance bleaching via tv and schoolin’
    the superbowl was a commercial success & beyonce lip-synced flawlessly again
    & the flags, ah, the flags flew so high & piously, almost above it all, but did i see, a bloodstain, a tear or was it a puff of smoke?

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  8. 8. totohanthala 10:17 pm 04/1/2013

    Sheikha Nasser Mahdi Ahmad Bouh | 3 | female Afrah Ali Mohammed Nasser | 9 | female
    Zayda Ali Mohammed Nasser | 7 | female Najibullah | 13 | male
    Naeemullah | 17 | male
    Hizbullah | 10 | male
    Kitab Gul | 12 | male
    Wilayat Khan | 11 | male
    Zabihullah | 16 | male
    Shehzad Gul | 11 | male
    Shabir | 15 | male
    Qari Sharifullah | 17 | male
    Shafiullah | 16 | male
    Nimatullah | 14 | male
    Shakirullah | 16 | male
    Talha | 8 | male
    YEMEN
    Hoda Ali Mohammed Nasser | 5 | female
    Sheikha Ali Mohammed Nasser | 4 | female
    Ibrahim Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye | 13 | male
    Asmaa Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye | 9 | male
    Salma Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye | 4 | female
    Fatima Abdullah Mokbel Salem Louqye | 3 | female
    Khadije Ali Mokbel Louqye | 1 | female
    Hanaa Ali Mokbel Louqye | 6 | female
    Mohammed Ali Mokbel Salem Louqye | 4 | male
    Jawass Mokbel Salem Louqye | 15 | female
    Maryam Hussein Abdullah Awad | 2 | female
    Shafiq Hussein Abdullah Awad | 1 | female
    Maha Mohammed Saleh Mohammed | 12 | male
    Soumaya Mohammed Saleh Mohammed | 9 | female
    Shafika Mohammed Saleh Mohammed | 4 | female
    Shafiq Mohammed Saleh Mohammed | 2 | male
    Mabrook Mouqbal Al Qadari | 13 | male
    Daolah Nasser 10 years | 10 | female
    AbedalGhani Mohammed Mabkhout | 12 | male
    Abdel- Rahman Anwar al Awlaki | 16 | male
    Abdel-Rahman al-Awlaki | 17 | male
    Nasser Salim | 19

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  9. 9. totohanthala 10:20 pm 04/1/2013

    The Slaughter of the Children Drones On & On & On & On

    When the drones are slaughtering innocent children in your name
    do you bother to get concerned even when on your knees on Sunday?
    or do you just stick your head in the sand blindly support the troops & just not think about whose to blame
    if you care, i have list of their names and ages i could give you from the depths of an odious jingo game

    Do your wonder if your joystick violence is really doing any good
    or do you get the feeling that something is very wrong & your getting spun & fooled
    how can you support exported terrorism when your sworn to defend against it
    how can you donate freedom &democracy when its getting stolen from under you by E/O

    Every bullet bought is a loaf of bread stolen from the belly of the hungry
    & your self-praising charity checkbook fad doesn’t seem to dent the starvation
    for if you spent 2.2 million everyday since Jesus was born
    you would have spent what your nation purchased on the military just in one year

    Do you wonder why your schools don’t have books & pencils
    why your bridges are crumbling down & the roads are potholed like Swiss cheese
    while your politicians live in mansions with 5-star chefs lapping at life-long luxury
    then again today they announced another bone-cut to the needy, homeless and disabled

    How could anyone with a shred of conscience bow before a flag without bending over with nausea
    knowing underneath it the killing of the innocent is a weekly act in nations we are not at war with
    that after a mob- hit, the gang fires off another drone when medics & rescuers come to the scene
    we’ve forgotten what we stand for by the very deeds we toe-tag and their is no justification

    Now we know by special executive decree memo called a ‘white paper’
    the Nobel Peace prize holder president has the power to murder americans beyond the law
    it is solely up to the president when it comes to life and death and it is all a hush-hush secret
    change we have been deceived by has shown the articulate wooly sheep to be but a child-eating wolf

    Anyone who murders children by drone and then jokes about it is a sociopath
    a leader who becomes a serial killer validated by secret edicts he wont share with his employers is a despot
    expansion and consolidation of extreme consolidated power will one day target you and yours
    For what goes on abroad in your name will backblow as it comes around to get you and yours tomorrow

    Just south of key west at Guantanamo every law, principle and value you hold dear is smashed
    across the pond the most nefarious crimes are done in your name only with your support
    and yet at home you bury your head deep in the sand far from the massive contradiction
    your heart bleeds for Newton yet when your troops do the exact same thing you raise a flag & a stiff arm

    For what profits an empire when it can envelop the world and dominate it
    yet in the process they loose their values, principles and in so doing their very soul
    still atonement must be rectified somewhere at some time
    and this is the vision that i dream someday will come to be;

    For all the innocent children who’ve been the victims of the american military machine
    i would willingly witness each and everyone of them walk by in front of every war supporter and soldier
    to deeply gaze into their eyes to say with conviction, question and horror;
    Why did you murder me?

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  10. 10. TaffyAkemann 10:57 pm 04/1/2013

    before I saw the check which said $5300, I have faith that…my… neighbours mother was like realie erning money in there spare time from there labtop.. there neighbor had bean doing this less than 11 months and just paid the loans on there place and bought a great Aston Martin DB5. this is where I went… http://zapit.nu/ago

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  11. 11. TonyTrenton 8:00 am 04/2/2013

    The Drone attacks are getting more accurate. Less civilians hit .

    The Muslim terrorists must be held too account !!

    This is the best way to do it. Period !!!

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  12. 12. ndoris 10:57 am 04/2/2013

    @SpeedcurveSteve: First, carpet nuking isn’t a thing, mostly because it is inefficient at accomplishing strategic goals. Second, agree with it or not, this is a “war” on terror. It is an inherently ugly thing, but these drones are the most efficient way to fight this war with minimal effect on innocents and without risking our soldiers lives. You should be arguing against the war on terror, not the amazingly precise way in which we are fighting it.

    Link to this

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