Since the invention of the internet, big data has completely changed the way we live our lives and view the world, for better or for worse. We have to accept and respect Moore’s Law, the idea that technological advances are occurring at an exponentially increasing rate because new technologies improve research that leads to newer technologies. This has allowed us to further our understanding of the sciences and have set us on the path to curing the biggest pathological threats to humans. It has also allowed us to further understand the nature of our atmosphere and how climate change can be induced by human industrial activity. There is no doubt that more data can bolster scientific findings and bring theories closer to truths accepted by the political side (it often takes a long time for science to meet politics). But we have also seen, especially in my Biology discussion seminar, that an overload of data can inhibit scientific progress. Thanks to the internet, paperback scientific journals have been replaced by online journals. Due to this decrease in publication costs, it is far easier to have your article published. The level of editing and pruning of articles for errors and falsehoods has decreased resulting in a wealth of bad information on the internet. During my biology seminar, we discuss scientific articles found online, and the discussion often focuses on how the authors created a bad figure that doesn’t not explain their points well, or that they provided no new information and simply cited past works that could easily be found on the internet.
Another interesting side of the data revolution is how statistics have become such a large player in politics. I think data and polling has taken away from the true importance of politics and media. If there is a presidential election in two years, we already get bombarded with polling results and what we’re left with is a election that completely diverts Americans from actual events occurring in the country and around the globe. News is turning into just politics and politics is turning into statistical analysis.
Whether we like it or not, computers are only becoming more integrated into every aspect of our lives, and as usual (even though we tend to not do this), when given a new technology or a new use for data, we have to think about how we can use that safely and responsibly and predict the possible negative side affects. In general, I think data is best used for science because it often leads to clear, black and white conclusions about a question or hypothesis. Too often is data used in an ambiguous manner to fit one’s unique message that is probably aimed for profit. Data is useless without the integrity of those who use it, but in today’s world, we rely can’t count on the integrity of many people, and therefore, we must approach every statistical argument with questioning and a different perspective. Don’t just nod your head to every graph that tells you what the presenter wants you to believe.