Tag Archive: data

Reasoning skills for writers and everyone else

At the University of Washington in Seattle, a new course is available: “Calling Bullshit: Data Reasoning for the Digital Age.” Check out the syllabus, which includes links to readings. Even if you aren’t a student at the university, you can read the articles and case studies and hopefully sharpen your reasoning skills.

It’s great that this kind of class is available. I also wish that ‘data reasoning,’ critical thinking, and statistical literacy were taught more widely and at younger ages. (The material could be adapted for kids.) Will the class shape mental habits that help people deal with all the misinformation they come across online?

I’m reminded of an assignment I got in a college developmental psych class. The professor asked us to find a newspaper article reporting a research finding in psych. Our assignment was to analyze both the news article and the original research paper it covered. What were the limitations of the original study? What did the newspaper article exaggerate or omit? It was an effective lesson, and it changed how I read science journalism.

Any written piece – whether for a blog, an academic journal, or a newspaper – needs to meet a certain standard of integrity. If you want to publish something, do what you can to avoid major distortions, poor research, and blatant lies. If you set this standard for yourself as an individual or as a business, you’re fighting for a more honest and civilized discourse. You may even stand out favorably, your reputation enhanced.

All the courses in the world on “calling bullshit” mean little if the lessons don’t get applied. And reasoning skills will hopefully become a habit, not a one-time lesson. – Hila

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: A Good Intro to How the World Is Changing

Technological developments are changing the world in profound ways. We’re more connected and more dependant on computing devices and internet-based services. We’re generating enormous amounts of data. And many tasks are becoming automated, requiring minimal human intervention.

How are these changes affecting our lives? And what can we expect in the future?

A good introduction to these questions and their possible answers is The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. It’s a short book that discusses the impact of new technologies and makes predictions about how life will likely change in the coming years.

The issues the book addresses include:

  • The instant spread of information (including slander and misinformation) on a large scale.
  • Social unrest, with people experiencing displacement and feeling superfluous.
  • Workplace disruption, with certain jobs disappearing (and other kinds becoming available?), and certain skills increasingly emphasized (like quick learning, creativity, emotional intelligence, big picture analyses).
  • Growing inequalities in wealth, knowledge, and skill sets.
  • The best uses of data, struggles for control over data, and issues of privacy.

The book doesn’t focus only on the possible depressing outcomes; it discusses benefits as well, including various improvements in quality of life.

I like that the author doesn’t treat each prediction as an inevitability. The changes we’re experiencing will be shaped by decisions from governments, businesses, non-profit organizations, special interest groups, and individuals. Attitudes about work, life, ethics, and humanity will influence what we value and prioritize.

To know how to make better decisions, we need to stay informed about the issues and understand both the challenges and opportunities. Furthermore, these changes can take a psychological toll that we have to prepare for.

If you want to just skim through The Fourth Industrial Revolution, start with the appendix. It lists various technological shifts (e.g. 3D printing in manufacturing) and the positive and negative impacts of each.

– Hila

Lost in a Data-Driven World

I recently came across “Hyper-Reality,” a short film by Keiichi Matsuda. (Watch the video at Vimeo.)

It shows a woman navigating a world of augmented reality. Her visual field is crowded with corporate logos, social media icons, status updates, and menus. Virtual arrows urge her to take certain paths, and messages pop up asking her to rate things and contact people. She has an identity that she builds with points (e.g. “4 city points” for using public transportation). To answer questions like “Who am I?” and “Where am I going?” she summons a Google search bar.

Data-driven world with augmented reality

Screenshot from Keiichi Matsuda’s “Hyper-Reality.”

Something goes wrong for her during the film, and at the end it’s comforting to think that security measures won’t ever be that weak. (Right?) In any case, the film isn’t intended as an exact prediction of what our world will turn into. But it isn’t far-fetched. The data-driven world it depicts is recognizable. And people can feel lost in it.

Concerns in a data-driven world

I recently read Data-Ism by Steve Lohr, a solid introductory book on big data for a general audience. Lohr highlights some potential major benefits of big data, which range from more effective healthcare interventions to reductions in energy costs. He also discusses the concerns about privacy, security, and lack of transparency in data collection and use.

  • Who has my data?
  • Who is collecting it, and how and when?
  • What’s the purpose of data collection?
  • What are people doing with my data?
  • How does the data get analyzed, and how are individuals and organizations acting on the conclusions?
  • Has my data been used against me? (Perhaps in grossly unfair ways?)

Matsuda’s film conveys the helplessness of feeling like a fly that twitches in the web of data. The film’s central character seems surrounded by choices – what to click on, who to contact, what to purchase – but they’re superficial. In her world, personal identity has become only a set of data points. She has no defenses to protect the integrity of her self or understand the purpose of her life.