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Big Data: Big Dud? or Big Excuse for Nonscientific Thinking?

On August 17, an article appeared in the New York Times with the title "Is Big Data an Economic Big Dud?" A colleague of mine provided a very brief summary of the article in this way: "Some economists are questioning whether Big Data will ever have the impact of the first Internet wave, let alone the industrial revolutions of past centuries."

Take a look for yourself and see what you think: 

For the most part, it is a reasonably well written opinion piece, but when I saw the article's accompanying graphics, I then understood the crux of the author's argument. Here are the graphics →  which show that the volume of Big Data has been surging upward, while the economy has been nearly flat, or worse.

Note the line of non-scientific reasoning that the author uses: In the last several years we have experienced one of the worst recessions in the past 80 years.  This has occurred at the same time as Big Data has entered into the mainstream consciousness of science, business, government, healthcare, etc.  Since big Data has not pulled us out of this deep recession yet, consequently Big Data must be a Big Dud! 

Correlation must imply causation, right? 

Consider the following "industrial revolutions" in society over the past 100+ years, and their subsequent impactful developments:

  • 1st telephone 1876 → 1st personal smart phone 1997.
  • 1st powered flight 1908 → 1st jet flight 1939.
  • 1st computer 1941 → 1st PC 1976.
  • Arpanet 1968 → Internet 1989.

And then consider this suggestion:

Considering these historical precedents, I would say that the Big Data revolution is much more impactful than prior industrial revolutions since it hasn't required a few dozen decades to impact the world of everything -- it has taken only a few dozen months to do so!

What is your reaction to the article, or to my interpretation?

Follow Kirk on Twitter at @KirkDBorne

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Tags: BigData, Statistics


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