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Grist Investigation stolen US Indigenous land used by state universities
Grist Investigation stolen US Indigenous land used by state universities

Image: Screenshot, Grist



Stolen US Indigenous Land, Mapping Red Sea Attacks, Amazon Deforestation, and the Global Motherhood Penalty

Our curated list of the most interesting data journalism between January 29 to February 11 features standout data investigations from Brazil, such as the effect of deforestation on the Amazon’s archaeological sites and a timely breakdown of the numbers — costs, trash creation, visitors, and other essential stats — related to Brazil’s annual carnival. This edition’s stories also feature two different angles on land grabs — one involving historic Indigenous lands taken by US public universities and the other examining illicit expansions of wealthy properties in space-poor Hong Kong.

Investigating Stolen US Indigenous Land

Grist investigation land grant universities fossil fuel acreage

Image: Screenshot, Grist

Using publicly available data, Grist located millions of acres of Indigenous land on which US public universities were founded — and from which they still profit today. Laid out in a series of articles and data visualizations, Grist’s analysis concludes that 14 colleges — including the University of Idaho, the University of Minnesota, and Washington State University — took 8.2 million acres from 123 Indigenous nations and that these land-grant colleges still rake in revenue in the form of fossil fuel exploration, mining, timber harvesting, and other industries from this land. To conduct this wide-reaching investigation, Grist created their own dataset by analyzing old legislation, poring over registers of state trust lands and US Forest Service land parcels dating back to the 19th century, identifying the land’s original inhabitants with historical records, and more. (Read more more about the methodology here.)

Invisible Land Grab in Hong Kong

Image: Screenshot, South China Morning Post

Hong Kong has long been the world’s least affordable housing market, notes the South China Morning Post, with over seven million people jostling for limited space. Last year, landslides caused by record rains also highlighted the practice of unauthorized and dangerous add-ons to homes in wealthy areas. An investigation by the SCMP team, building on an earlier NGO study, reveals that this development — including illicit expansions for pools, sheds, rooms, and basements — is prevalent at three other wealthy housing developments, and explains how the wealthy improperly acquire and misuse land in Hong Kong.

The Global Motherhood Penalty

Economist graphic the Motherhood Effect

Image: Screenshot, The Economist

Being a parent is a full-time job — and in many countries, new parents have a right to time off work when they have children, The Economist notes. A new study — by the London School of Economics and Princeton University that builds on the work of a Nobel Prize-winning Harvard economist — estimates the impact of motherhood on careers in 134 countries. The Economist’s graphic team visualized the data. While many countries have tried to make the division of parental labor more equitable with more generous or flexible paternal leave policies, data on employment changes after the first-born child makes it clear that the job still falls overwhelmingly to women — all over the world. The extent of the so-called  “motherhood penalty” was also poorly understood — but by comparing childless people to mothers and fathers of the same age, it is easier to grasp where having children penalizes women the most.

Mapping Attacks on the Red Sea

Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping

Image: Screenshot, Reuters

Houthi militants — who control swathes of Yemen — have been using sophisticated weapons to attack international shipping in the Red Sea since November 19, 2023. They claim these attacks are in support of Hamas and its war against Israel. The weapons used include ballistic missiles and kamikaze drones. Reuters visualized how the attacks — which numbered 30 as of early February — have escalated, by mapping attack locations, cataloging the ships involved and what damage they suffered, and analyzing what weapons Houthi militants are using to target them. The Reuters team also notes that the Houthi attacks have continued despite US-UK airstrikes against land targets in Yemen, starting in January.

Deforestation Threats in the Amazon

Image: Screenshot, InfoAmazonia

InfoAmazonia, the Brazil-based nonprofit that tells data-driven stories about the Amazon rainforest, found that 71% of archaeological sites in Brazil’s Legal Amazon (a socio-geographical term for the collection of nine states in the Amazon basin) are in deforested areas — which threatens archaeological heritage, including sites that haven’t yet been explored. In short, they conclude that escalating deforestation combined with unrestrained resource extraction in the Amazon threatens the entire area’s archaeological wealth. InfoAmazonia conducted this exclusive survey partly based on deforestation data collected by Prodes — a system belonging to the National Institute for Space Research — spanning 1988-2022. (Read more about their methodology here.)

Should You Rent or Buy, in Germany?

Image: Screenshot, Zeit Online

Many people dream of owning property. But is it worth it to buy? German daily Die Zeit created what it calls the “ultimate” interactive calculator to help readers in Germany with this most expensive life decision. Users can toggle variables for renting and buying — such as starting capital, rent or mortgage costs, borrowing interests, and predicted savings — to calculate a price threshold at which it is smarter to buy (or not). Die Zeit noted that often, the decision to buy a house or apartment is an emotional one, rather than a rational one — but it warned that the ability to grow tomatoes in one’s own garden is not always worth the debt. They also looked at data for regional variations, but there is something not included in the calculator, they warned — the condition of the property, which often ends up being uncalculated, as it were, cost.

Analyzing Social Media Videos in Gaza

Image: Screenshot, The New York Times

A team at The New York Times reviewed hundreds of social media videos uploaded by an Israeli soldier that appeared on TikTok and other platforms. Some featured mundane portions of a soldier’s life — such as messages to loved ones — but the reporting team also traced back (and was able to verify with dates, locations, and deployment details) more than 50 videos to Israel’s military combat engineering units. The videos showed soldiers filming themselves, as well as the use of bulldozers, excavators, and explosives to destroy what appear to be houses, schools, and other civilian buildings inside Gaza. Some of these posts violate IDF regulations restricting the use of social media and the Israeli military condemned the actions in some of them. Still, such videos continue to appear online, underscoring how social media is transforming combat from Gaza to Ukraine.

Despite Prigozhin Gone, Wagner Group Continues in Africa

Image: Flight activity of an aircraft associated with the Wagner Group in 2023. Screenshot, The Insider

Yevgeny Prigozhin was a well-known leader of the Wagner Group, a Russian private military and mercenary company. He reportedly died in a plane crash last August, two months after launching a short-lived mutiny against the Kremlin. However, his death does not seem to have halted the activities of his company. Using satellite and ground imagery as well as other data sources, The Insider found that aircraft associated with the Wagner Group were still active along some African routes in the months after Prigozhin’s death.

Trump’s Business Empire — And Potential Conflicts of Interest

Image: Screenshot, Wall Street Journal.

Former US President Donald Trump is in the race again for the White House. Ahead of the country’s presidential election this November, concerns about Trump’s propensity of fusing his business empire with the presidency have risen again. The Wall Street Journal tracked the growth of his assets by identifying ongoing projects, those being contemplated, licensing deals, and more, to find out just how much risk there is for potential conflicts of interest between the Trump Organization and a potential second Trump administration.

Costs of Brazil’s Carnival

In the 2023 Carnival, 1,761 tons of garbage were collected from the festitivites, which is equivalent to 5,000 people discarding the waste they usually produce over an entire year. Image: Screenshot, piauí

One of the world’s biggest parties, Brazil’s carnival, started on February 9. Brazilian outlet piauí did “an X-ray” of the numbers. Some head-turning stats: For locals to enjoy the five days of festivities at a popular parade site in Rio de Janeiro, they would have to shell out about 10 times their average annual salary. The growth in sheer numbers has also been staggering: in 2013, the southeastern state of Minas Gerais hosted 500,000 revelers — in 2023, that number had jumped 900% to 5.2 million.

Bonus: Streaming Year-in-Review

Image: Screenshot, Nightingale

Are you a fan of Spotify’s annual review of your music tastes? If you were hoping to get the same in-depth insights in your streaming habits, you’re in luck. Accessibility designer Tyler Freeman created a website, where you can upload your own viewing history file from Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, and see a breakdown of what you’ve watched. Here’s Freeman’s process of wrangling the data into a year-end review for himself.

GIJN’s Data Journalism Top 10 list is curated fortnightly. Send your suggestions to us.

Alexa van Sickle is an associate editor at GIJN. She was previously a senior editor for the foreign correspondence magazine Roads and Kingdoms. She has also been an editor at the International Institute for Strategic Studies and a publisher at an international law nonprofit in London. She is based in Vienna.



Eunice Au is GIJN’s global team manager based in Budapest, Hungary. Previously, she was a Malaysia correspondent for Singapore’s The Straits Times, and a journalist at Malaysia’s New Straits Times. She has also written for The Sun, Malaysian Today, and Madam Chair.

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