Big Data Used to Confirm Bad Science

November 30, 2017

I had thought we had moved beyond harnessing big data and were now focusing on AI and machine learning, but Forbes has some possible new insights in, “Big Data: Insights Or Illusions?”

Big data is a tool that can generate new business insights or it can reinforce a company’s negative aspects.  The article consists of an interview with Christian Madsbjerg of ReD Associates.  It opens with how Madsbjerg and his colleagues studied credit card fraud by living like a fraudster for a while.  They learned some tricks and called their experience contextual analytics.  This leads to an important discussion topic:

Dryburgh: This is really interesting, because it seems to me that big data could be a very two-edged sword. On the one hand you can use it in the way that you’ve described to validate hypotheses that you’ve arrived at by very subjective, qualitative means. I guess the other alternative is that you can use it simply to provide confirmation for what you already think.

Madsbjerg: Which is what’s happening, and with the ethos that we’ve got a truth machine that you can’t challenge because it’s big data. So you’ll cement and intensify the toxic assumptions you have in the company if you don’t use it to challenge and explore, rather than to confirm things you already know.

This topic is not new.  We are seeing unverified news stories reach airwaves and circulate the Internet for the pure sake of generating views and profit.  Corporate entities do the same when they want to churn more money into their coffers than think of their workers or their actual customers.  It is also like Hollywood executives making superhero movies based on comic heroes when they have no idea about the medium’s integrity.

In other words, do not forget context and the human factor!

Whitney Grace, November 30, 2017

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