The Data Doesn’t Lie Myth

by | Jun 6, 2020 | ICT4D |

Data doesn’t lie. Or at least that is the myth some people want us to believe. Good research looks at how the researcher has attempted to eliminate the bias from the data. Great research looks at the bias and worldview of the researcher her or himself as well to understand the bias they bring to analysis. Most data and analysis on the internet is not good or great research.

Most of us look at data as it is. And take it as fact. And most often data is a data point, a point in time, a snapshot. We often forget data tells a story. A particular story. But there are other stories that are equally true. When data is a snapshot, it is like taking one frame of a movie and making decisions on it. Forgetting this single frame sits within and is connected to thousands or millions of other frames.

Data can be helpful to understand a view, a perspective. But it is a perspective, not the only perspective. And certainly not the truth. This is one of the reasons looking at systems is so important. And why some of the little videos making their rounds on social media giving insight into what systematic racism is are helpful.

This is critical when we use data to make decisions or ‘program’ our software or our AI. There are countless examples of police data being used to ‘program’ or train AI for solving crime. Well, if the events of the past week show us anything, they should teach us that that data was likely racist to begin with. And for the avoidance of doubt, I’m not sure there is a sector that does not have room to improve. And it may not be racism, it might be our view of poverty or disability or sexuality or gender.

We all have work to do.

Photo by Pietro Jeng


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