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That’s where it’s all at, I am told-- ‘Big Data’. I have been learning to code to gain access to it, and the world increasingly revolves around it.
The trouble is-- Is it accurate? Can we trust it?
The fact is, nearly every database has some degree of error. Some have quite a bit of built-in-error. Those that do not admit to this are not being honest with their users.
There is a popular reference database, for example, that was designed for startup businesspeople and advertising. It shows the economic conditions and spending patterns of over 290 million Americans.
Unfortunately, nearly every entry in the database is flawed. Some have out-of-date information-- dating back to the last Census, over 8 years ago. Some do not explain where their data comes from.
This database does not explain the potential built-in errors, nor does it reveal in detail its sources. I believe that all public databases should include detail about and disclaimers concerning possible inaccuracies.
If a person made a major economic decision based on this database, they would risk taking losses. This because the database is flawed, and because nowhere on the databases’ website does it list or explain these flaws.
When data has errors, problems are bound to occur. As long as we refer to data as a reality grounded in “probability”, we are ok. As soon as we use databases as justifications for action, we have to be careful.
What if, for example, a study that suggested that many cancer cases occurred in a certain city turned out to use data from a Census that was from a decade ago? What if this affected the ill-timed or ill-placed construction of anti-cancer centers, or training and/or deployment of doctors?
I have used perhaps a half-dozen databases in my SQL training this year. All have been helpful, and all have been full of errors. And that’s ok, as long as I am using them as probabilities, as aids towards understanding. If I am treating the data, however, as though it is objectively true, and making decisions based on it-- that’s when problems begin.
Imagine relocating a business only to find that your new location is not lucrative for your industry. Imagine being denied a spot in a class, or for a loan, due to data that is inaccurate, or of date, or unfair to use. Imagine taking a trip to a spot and finding it to be nothing like what was promised.
In a culture, in a society, that holds big data to be truth, and information to be money-- remember, please, to be careful and selective about how data is used. True objectivity is hard to achieve, whether you are a consumer, a small business owner, or a large corporation.
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Every now and then I think-- "What is beyond digital?"
Beyond digital is genetics and molecular domains, such as string theory, etc. I highly recommend Rudy Rucker's book, "Mind Tools". Its old, but a nice stroll through what the world looks like using numbers and data.