“Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.”
~ W. Edwards Deming
Data and its use is a very hot topic these days. Significant controversy exists over decision making regarding Covid-19 strategies and the quality or lack there of the data supporting government policies. Scientific disagreements and so called ‘academic arguments‘ are appropriate, especially when facing the NEW. However, the way some data is being used should give us all pause.
We will learn a lot from this pandemic, one important opportunity is to understand how incomplete and competing data can/must be used in important decision processes. By definition, every decision is made with incomplete and/or poor quality data. Moreover, all data is not revealed by traditional data analysis–Latent variables play a major role in any assessment process.
Opinions Are Like …
There are a number of ways to complete the above sentence and we will leave that to the reader. As Deming mentioned, if the data supporting a position is not valid and reliable, it enters the arena of “FAKE.” According to Accenture, “Fake data is data that is unverified, maliciously tampered with, or just plain wrong.”
Unfortunately, much of what is passed today, especially on social media might be classified in the fake category. With no quality assurance, even by institutional resources, positions are advanced as gospel and are often not just wrong but driven by agendas.
For example, months ago, hydroxychloroquine was vilified by an on air journalist, yet a world leading medical expert posited that it helped. Presently, the pendulum has swung against this drug. Questions of the efficacy of the data have been resurrected.
It is beyond the scope of this piece to address data nuances. Interested parties may find the Public Health Research Guide: Primary & Secondary Data Definitions useful. Moreover, it is not necessary to become a data expert or data scientist. The construct, Wisdom of the Crowds suggest that the knowledge and decision of a large group can be better than experts.
If you have expertise in data, ask this simple question “Is the data reliable and valid?” Also, follow the wisdom of physicist Richard Feynman, “If it disagrees with experiment, its wrong.”
With so many claiming to follow The Science, it is important that individuals have a level of understanding about the data that supports The Science. Sadly, from this physicist’s perspective secondary, unvetted data is often the weak foundation of their positions.
So, What Are Your Statements Based On?
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