By Molly McElroy
UW News and Information
Mark Ellis, a geography professor at the University of Washington, uses non-public data collected by the government to study immigration and unemployment patterns. But since the data are confidential and access to them is restricted, Ellis can’t just have the records sent to him or access them from his UW computer.
Instead, he has had to travel to a Research Data Center maintained by the U.S. Census Bureau and use its secure Internet connection to obtain data kept on census servers in Bowie, Md. At one point in his career, Ellis traveled every other week to UCLA – one of the closest census centers to UW.
He had a young child and other responsibilities and those trips to California became “enormously stressful.”
Ellis led the effort to create a census research center in Washington state. With funding from UW, the state and the National Science Foundation, the Northwest Census Research Data Center officially opened Sept. 24 with Ellis as its director.
“The UW is poised to be a world leader in developing tools for integrating, analyzing and understanding data sets that are high-dimensional, dynamic and large in scale,” UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce said at the center’s grand opening. The local center will help UW reach this goal by providing “a vital resource for our students and faculty in the social, behavioral and health sciences, allowing them to do cutting edge research on campus that was previously impossible without costly travel elsewhere,” she said.
The new center at UW is one of 15 such census outposts across the U.S. It provides qualified researchers access to restricted data from demographic, economic, public health and household surveys collected by the Census Bureau and other federal agencies, including the National Center for Health Statistics and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The records go back to the 1980s, sometimes earlier.
Ellis anticipates that researchers using the center will pursue topics such as the effects of highway tolls on low-income individuals, how neighborhood environments affect health, and improving population estimates in King County to better allocate funding for schools, public transportation and fire and police services.
Economic data provided at the center can help answer questions on the characteristics that help new businesses thrive and the links between entrepreneurialism and job creation.
Researchers must submit a research proposal and obtain a medium-level security clearance to use the Northwest Census Research Data Center.
The process involves:
- Discussing the research idea with Ellis and Mike Babb, UW Geography grad student and administrator of the Northwest Census Research Data Center, to ensure the topic is feasible.
- Preparing a proposal detailing the research question, how it will benefit the census, and which datasets are requested
- Submitting the proposal to the Census Bureau for review by federal agencies and other researchers. Submissions can be made at any time.
Proposals are seldom rejected, but reviewers usually ask researchers to revise their proposals and resubmit them. It takes about four months to hear whether the proposal has been approved, and census officials are trying to decrease that time to about 60 days.
The center – located in George Russell Jr. Hall in the University District – can accommodate 16 users at a time and most of the data is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Fees apply for some users.
Funding for the center came from UW’s College of Arts and Sciences, Office of the Provost and School of Social Work, with additional funds from the National Science Foundation and the Washington State Office of Financial Management.
For more information, contact Ellis at 206-616-6207 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Babb at 206-543-1528 or email@example.com.
Watch videos from the Northwest Census Research Data Center’s grand opening, including introductory remarks by UW and census officials, instructions for accessing the center, and a research talk by Melissa Martinson of the School of Social Work describing how she used restricted data to study health of U.S. immigrants.
Overview of demographic , public health, household, and economic data available from the Center
Professor Michael Brown and UW Tacoma colleague Larry Knopp have been getting a lot of media attention for their ongoing study, “Biopolitical Geographies”. They are investigating the relations in the Pre-AIDS era between Seattle’s Gay & Lesbian community and health-promotion agencies. The project engages with urban, political, and health geographies, as well as urban gay history
They are specifically exploring gays and lesbians’ relations and interactions with two parts of state/local governments: The Seattle-King County Public Health department and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, as well as the community’s efforts in health promotion and self-regulation. Issues such as “VD” control, contact tracing, (spatial) regulation of gay bars and taverns, and behavior all are of interest. As Brown puts it,
We are especially interested in these two state agencies because while we know a lot about other arms of the state (for example, the City Council, Human Rights Commission, the Police, and the courts), less is known about these more everyday, behind-the-scenes agencies. Research on other cities, however, have suggested that these agencies had quite powerful effects on gays’ lives and community formation. Yet Seattle has a distinct political and cultural geography, so we’re interested in finding out specifics of this city. Indeed, preliminary findings are suggesting a more complicated set of relations than the academic literature would suggest! They resonate with recent theoretical work on the geographies of governmentality and biopower.
Brown goes on to explain that “We are interested in the Pre-AIDS era (approximately before 1983) in Seattle, because this was a time of great social change in sexuality and local governance. We are doing both archival research and interviews with people who remember “VD” control back then, were treated or contact-traced by SKCPH, dealt with the Seattle Gay Clinic; or folks who worked in, managed, owned, or just hung out in old Seattle gay bars, taverns, or lounges.
The 50 people interviewed so far have offered insights that include:
- “Blue laws” that regulated liquor sales could have quite an effect on gay and lesbian spaces: they dictated the floor plans of taverns, their visibility to the street (important if people were “in the closet”), and even the conduct of patrons.
- Lesbians were required to wear at least three articles of feminine clothing, or else they risked being kicked out of a bar for appearing too “butch.”
- Health department investigators could be discreet, but were sometimes known to call the homes of closeted gay men who sought treatment for STDs – perhaps leaving a phone message with unassuming wives – to inquire about other sex partners.
“What’s emerging from our research is an understanding by bar owners and patrons of standards of behavior that had to be adhered to,” Knopp said. The liquor board had broad authority to control the conduct of patrons and even declare decorations in bars or restaurants to be too sexually suggestive, he added.
The board was allowed to enforce “the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law,” Knopp said, giving plenty of wiggle room to reflect the pervasive homophobic attitudes at the time.
Like the TV character Sal Romano in “Mad Men,” many gay Seattleites in the pre-AIDS era were in the closet, married and outwardly living as straight people. They feared losing their jobs or housing, being physically assaulted, being subjected to derision from family and friends, and other consequences of living an openly gay life.
Even in liberal Seattle, many people at the time considered homosexuality a moral failure or mental illness.
“Just because it’s a liberal city doesn’t mean that there wasn’t moral regulation,” Brown said. “We want to know how gay men and lesbians interacted with local policies related to day-to-day life.”
This research is funded by the National Science Foundation (#1059732), endorsed by the Northwest Lesbian & Gay History Project, and Approved by the UW Human Subjects Division.
If you are interested in being interviewed, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org . Interviews are anonymous and confidential, transcripts will be returned for your editing. They take less than an hour and can be done at a time and place of your convenience. Thanks!
Link to UW News Story on this research project
Link to Seattle Weekly article
Congratulations to our own Dr. Sarah Elwood for winning Sustainable Seattle’s annual Innovator in Sustainability award! Dr. Elwood received this award for her university-community partnership work on the uses of GIS in environmental justice and sustainability. More details about the award, as well as Sarah’s work, can be found here: http://sustainableseattle.org/programs/awards. Congrats Sarah, this honor is much deserved!
The Washington Global Health Alliance and the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development has published a new report describing our region’s growing global health industry. Called the 2011 Global Health Strategic Mapping and Economic Opportunity Portfolio, the report identifies local organizations working in global health, the number of jobs, types of projects overseas and business opportunities. Some key findings:
- Respondent’s organizations have 2,503 projects and initiatives in 156 countries.
- In Washington, 2,979 people work in global health. Outside of the state, these 59 organizations support an additional 17,275 employees.
- Washington has particular expertise in infectious & chronic disease and developing technologies & devices.
- Washington global health organizations surveyed collaborate with 1,574 partners, located in 111 countries across the world.
UW Geography Professor Matt Sparke has received recent press and blogosphere attention with his essay on how Seattle’s reincarnation as a global health epicenter relates to its previous reputation as a center for the global justice movement after the anti-WTO protests of 1999:
Many people at the time thought the 1999 WTO protests marked a significant turning point, against the neo-liberal agenda in globalization. The ‘Spirit of Seattle’ became the rallying cry for those who opposed the market fundamentalism mindset of the time.
But, today, another global Seattle being built, says Sparke. Neither the promoters of market competition nor the collaborative proponents of global justice have gone away, but in the aftermath of their now-famous standoff, a third and arguably “curative” rethinking of the city is taking shape: a re-visioning of Seattle as a world center of global health philanthropy and other private-sector treatments for the mismatch between global markets and global justice.
As cited in the influential global health blog Humanosphere, Sparke argues that “The Gates Foundation is basically addressing the same global challenges that the protesters were. But they are doing it in a way that’s much more comfortable with and friendly to the traditional neo-liberal market-based approach.” In his chapter on “Global Geographies” in the department’s recent publication, Seattle Geographies, Sparke also warns of the “commodified” and “corporatized” vision of global health, “taking us back to the age-old competitive concern about promoting Seattle as a global health market leader”:
The co-optation of global health for selling the city in the old game of global boosterism will seem for many a bitter pill to swallow. But if the historical geography of Seattle’s ongoing remaking as a global city tells us anything, it is that the definition of civic citizenship is always in flux, always being contested, and always, therefore, up for grabs….Global soul is not always for sale, and this city reminds us that there is going to be a battle for it–an ongoing Battle of Seattle over the meaning of world class.
How the ‘Battle in Seattle’ led to a global health epicenter | Humanosphere.