The data-driven life

Came across an article by this title in the NYT from a few months back, about people who itemize their activities or ideas and turn them into searchable databases. Interesting, but some basic misapperceptions about the nature of data, I think. For example:

If you want to replace the vagaries of intuition with something more reliable, you first need to gather data. Once you know the facts, you can live by them.

And:

In other contexts, it is normal to seek data. A fetish for numbers is the defining trait of the modern manager. Corporate executives facing down hostile shareholders load their pockets full of numbers. So do politicians on the hustings, doctors counseling patients and fans abusing their local sports franchise on talk radio.

But data aren’t just numbers. And the opposite of numbers is not intuition.

A) Qualitative data can be systematized, coded, and made searchable.

B) Tools of quantitative data analysis are subject to the assumptions built into the equations, and those assumptions can be mighty hard to satisfy. And there’s an element of intuition and experimentation to the way those assumptions are made.

We need a more holistic view of what count as data. Yes, to the article’s point, more things than we think can be made into databases, but that only increases the need for interpretation. Data don’t speak for themselves….

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3 Responses to “The data-driven life”

  1. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » The data-driven, multi-method life Says:

    […] The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" BETA version, new title in the works « The data-driven life […]

  2. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » The data-driven, multi-method, context-sensitive life Says:

    […] are the assumptions being made, what happens to the results if those assumptions are relaxed? The data-driven life is about more than just numbers; the data-driven, multi-method life has to be about context. […]

  3. The Blog Briefly Known as "Democratizing Philanthropy?" » Blog Archive » The data-driven, multi-method, context-sensitive life (continued) Says:

    […] had a few posts riffing on a New York Times article about people who create databases about every idea […]

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