This week I’ve been working on compiling far-flung data into one place so we can easily digest it and use it for fuel. Each year of the AIDS Chronicle has its own set of numbers and its own particular patterns. I’m looking at how many AIDS-related articles there are each year, how many are above versus below the fold, whether they’re stubs or full articles, and what their content is. Hopefully after all the data’s in, it will allow us to see short- and long-term patterns and trends in the quality and quantity of AIDS reporting.
One part of this task was picking a few labels for the type of content in each article. For example, was it a political article, detailing a tussle in the Senate over funding? Was it a pharmaceutical breakthrough, or an outbreak of a new puzzling H.I.V. strain? Is it about the United States or is it an international story? Is it about the social consequences of AIDS? Is it a completely unrelated article that happens to include the words AIDS or H.I.V.?
It’s a simple enough concept, but trying to label an article and consign it to a box — e.g., political, social issues, healthcare/pharmaceutical — drove home to me just how porous the boundaries of these categories are. Every article about a new drug also holds the specters of all the political decisions made regarding who has access to those drugs. Every political battle about how much money to allocate towards H.I.V. and AIDS research is affected by real and imagined social interest. Every article about the social impact of AIDS hides all the healthcare policies that amplify that social impact. Every article about how bad it is “over there” works to elide the fact that it’s still an “over here” problem as well. Since AIDS first appeared in our national consciousness, all its various threads — social, political, health-related — have been hopelessly intertwined with one another, making it one of the most complicated issues we’ve ever had to solve.
Trying to box up all these ideas without edges reminds me of just how intersectional the problem really is — and thus how multi-facted its solution has to be. It reminds me why we do projects like this in the first place: someone’s got to point to all the empty spaces, to all the things that aren’t being said, to all the silenced voices and the grounds left unmined.