In analyzing data, there is no way to avoid having theoretical assumptions. Any analysis is part data, and part theory. Richer data lends support to many more theories, some of which may contradict each other, as we noted before. But richer data does not save bad theory, or rescue bad analysis. The world has never run out of theoreticians; in the era of Big Data, the bar of evidence is reset lower, making it tougher to tell right from wrong.
People in industry who wax on about Big Data take it for granted that more data begets more good. Does one have to follow the other?
When more people are performing more analyses more quickly, there are more theories, more points of view, more complexity, and more confusion. There is less clarity, less consensus, and less confidence....
More data inevitably results in more time spent arguing, validating, reconciling, and replicating. All of these activities create doubt and confusion. There is a real danger that Big Data moves us backward, not forward. It threatens to take science back to the Dark Ages, as bad theories gain ground by gathering bad evidence and drowning out good theories.
Big Data is real, and its impact will be massive. At the very least, we are all consumers of data analyses. We must learn to be smarter consumers. What we need is Numbersense.
Here's your chance to improve your own Numbersense by winning a copy of Kaiser's book. (If you went to Discovery Summit earlier this week, where Kaiser served on our statistics panel discussion, you got a free copy of the book at the conference. Kaiser signed books for attendees.)
The first 25 readers who leave a comment telling about a challenge you've faced that involves the collection, processing or analysis of increasing amounts of data will qualify to receive a free hardcover copy of Kaiser’s new book, Numbersense. Your contribution to this discussion should be between 50 and 75 words long. Be sure to enter your e-mail address when you write your comment so we can contact you if you are a winner. Only one book per commenter. Commenters must reside in the US to be eligible to receive a book. Thanks to Kaiser's publisher, McGraw-Hill, for providing the books.
Update on Oct. 1, 2013: This contest is now closed. All books have been awarded. Thanks for your interest!