Is Data a Bridge to Nowhere?


Well, data is a bridge — and it could lead to nowhere. 

This weekend I watched a BBC documentary called The Joy of Data. You can see it here, but I’m not sure for how long — BBC does not post to YouTube, and there is no way to access BBC streams from outside the UK:

Ironic, isn’t it, that a documentary about the marvels of big data can only be seen on a tiny island nation? Anyway…

If you’ve got an hour, check it out. It focused more on the mechanics of data than its application. Interesting, but in the same way that learning how tap water works…I’d rather just fill up and run, thank you.

There is one analogy I’ll keep with me, though.

The documentary host, a mathematician, admitted that earlier in her career she preferred the beauty and elegance of theoretical math to the mess and grunge of data. 

But later, she changed her mind. Why? She saw data as a bridge — that which is given (the meaning of data in Latin, in fact) between theory and practice, thought and reality. 

I like this analogy, because it reminds us that good data analysis is meant to get us from theory to results. It’s not a destination in itself. Data without theory can become a bridge to nowhere.


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