Earlier this week, the University of Illinois Daily Illini published a database of salaries for all University of Illinois faculty and staff. Top salaries included football coach Ronald Zook at $1,052,500.10 and Engineering Dean and Donald Biggar Willett Professor of Engineering Ilesanmi Adesida at $309,466. The range of salaries also included Special Education Clerical Assistant Vikas K. Singh at $7,903.48 and Visiting Lecturer of Dance Denis Chiaramont at $6,468.84.
Although the Daily Illini article offered little text or opinion content, the article was quite inflammatory. One online commenter posted, “Understanding to the penny how much each and every person in your own office makes is a demoralizing and humiliating experience. It creates jealousy and hostility in an already trying work environment, and can sour even the best of friendships.” However, the Daily Illini did little more than to neatly organize publicly available data in to a searchable database. In fact, University of Illinois salaries have been available here since long before the Daily Illini created the database.
The Daily Illini salary database is just one of many instances where organizing publicly shared data sparks significant public attention. Last year, Caltech computer science graduate student Virgil Griffith looked up the most popular music on Facebook profiles of students at each United States university. Then, Griffith compared the 133 most popular music artists on his list with the average incoming SAT scores of the universities where the music was popular. Griffith compared music artists and SAT scores in a graph called Music That Makes You Dumb.
The graph suggests that students who like Beethoven are likely to have scored above 1350 on the SAT, and students who listen to Lil’ Wayne may have scored less than 900. While Griffith did little more than to organize freely available data, Music Makes You Dumb garnered attention from the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New Yorker.
Beyond salaries, SAT scores, and music preferences, there are countless public online resources that could be organized and published as databases or graphs for increased public attention. For instance, driving records available for Champaign County, IL are available for free in an online database. While the database is a bit crude and inconvenient to use, it is still easy to find driving records for any of your friends in Champaign County.
For instance, on November 23, 2009, University of Illinois accounting professor Ira Solomon was issued a $75 ticket for driving his 2000 Volvo at 11-14mph above the speed limit at the corner of Lincoln and Stoughton–just a block from where I live–Urbana, IL. Luckily, with a Daily Illini-reported salary of $294,230.16, I doubt Prof. Solomon was particularly distraught over his $75 ticket.