Lesson for Data-Anything…

I’m hoping that this election provides a sobering lesson to the data-enthusiasts who think that the future is paved with data.

If subordinated to an agenda, “facts and figures,” even when you have the best facts and figures (to ironically paraphrase a certain new entrant to politics) just become props to that agenda, not agents of “truth.”  “Facts and figures” are useful only as long as they serve the impartial “truth,” by illuminating where the agenda might be mistaken and needs to correct itself.  If you say that you are using data to advance “social justice” or whatever, how do you know if you really are pursuing “social justice” and not whatever you think “social justice” should be?  Having an agenda, an opinion, a set of convictions and beliefs, and thinking that the data is getting you closer, is the surest path to hell, literal or proverbial.

Good use of data shows you where you’re going off the path, provided that the “path” is defined clearly, rigorously, and unambiguously, but not if you are on the “right” path.  This is basic statistics, the fundamental idea behind p-values.  Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty to dump p-values after all.  Just think about it more rigorously and honestly.


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