Are there ways to fact check data? Aaron R. Hanlon , an English Professor at Colby in his talk on the Revolutions in Data, Big, and Little, has brought up that question that I bet many have not thought to ask. Hanlon opened his talk with how we take Data for granted. Data comes from the British tradition, entering the English language in the 1600s from Latin, where it was seen as fact and truth the way nowadays we view Google data. Hanlon discusses the way we misinterpret “data,” a conversation that would truly benefit people today as we are in the age of technology where “data” is attainable at a click of a button.
To delve deeper into what is data and the basis of where humanity receives our information he brought it back to religion and science, sharing that these two areas is at the basis of what we know. In the 1600s we had our philosophers and preachers first use the word data in the English language and it was used to refer to “a heap of data,” this referred to passages of the bible – scripture. Thus, data at this moment was used to signify absolute fact as it was used to make people believe there is only one thing to believe. The idea of using data in this context was to not argue with the word of god. Therefore, data is used interchangeably with evidence (numerical and observational).
There is also the era in which images began to be used over words, or in conjunction words as data. Hanlon used the example of Hooke’s micrographia with Flea in 1665. As Hanlon says, seeing is believing and with an image or words it was easy fro people to take it as fact and the truth. Hanlon brings up an interesting point of people having the tendency to say “show me the proof,” as opposed to “explain to me the proof.” A culture has been created around the use of data that makes it unquestionable when it should actually be a point in which we can ask more questions and come to more understandings.
In all, some of Aaron Hanlon’s take away points were that data has always been visual, big data was a conceptual revolution as much as a technological one, data is the main form of evidence and proof, not just pictures and that is revolutionary, and lastly, that all data is rhetorical and theory – As shown in the (Uncle Toby) story where the same information was subjective to the person referring to it. Overall, Data “is in need of saving.”