“Big data” has arrived, but big insights have not. The challenge now is to solve new problems and gain new answers – without making the same old statistical mistakes on a grander scale than ever.
Thousands of words have been written about the role of data in journalism, after Nate Silver launched his FiveThirtyEight blog last week.
Silver, who became famous for his predictions during the run-up to the 2012 US presidential election, made a strong case for the central role of data in journalism and for having news that is a “little nerdier”.
Silver was criticised for appearing to dismiss opinions, beliefs and ideas. The Nieman Lab has done an excellent job in collecting all the various reactions to the launch of the blog and Silver’s manifesto, and it’s worth a read.
Personally, I’m all for more statistics in journalism. As a colleague pointed out to me this week, data journalism in itself is not new — we’ve all (especially business and sports journalists) have been using numbers and data to analyse situations and issues for a long time.
The difference I guess then is that today, there’s more data out there, we can all crunch numbers (not just scientists and other experts) because of the technology/software available to us, and also crunch them a lot faster.
The key takeaway, I think, is what we do with the new information we gain from crunching the data. Will it fundamentally change how we look at the world? Can we put the data to good use more than we already have? And so on.
On that note, I enjoyed this video from Hans Rosling, a Swedish international health professor, on the joys of statistics. (In particular, there’s a good quote in it: ”What correlations do not replace is human thought.” (So folks, you don’t have to have one or the other, ie. data or opinions, you can and should have both!)
Rosling has his own foundation that analyses data — the Gapminder — and it is also worth checking out.
At the same time, there was this informative podcast from the Freakonomics team, which showed as well how the collection of data in itself can be suspect and biased, and how that can also skew how we look at the world.
Use adjectives to make your meaning more precise and be cautious of those you find yourself using to make it more emphatic.
On the long walk that is life
A man discovers who he is
Each step must be the search for purpose
Many roads will present themselves
He must often take the one few others would follow
And though he may wish to rest
When he is asked to stand
He must stand taller than he ever thought possible
For when the long walk is over
A man must be able to look back and say
I would not change a single footstep