There was a book review in the cheery-neo-fascist Wall Street Journal over the weekend that picks up on my post from yesterday and I think, is well-worth reading. Because the Journal has a paywall that is harder to violate than a Pennsylvania prison, I'll paste the article at the end of this post.
I believe in supporting journalism and paying for subscriptions. But I'll gladly steal from the Murdoch family. I wouldn't mind if they were somehow tortured like Prometheus bound. That would make me smile and gloat like one of their so-called newscasters. However since Rupert can't be chained to a rock to have his gizzards eaten each day, I'll have to content myself with pirating his content and making it available.
Yesterday, I wrote a post about athletes giving up their data-driven running watches because the mania around data was destroying their love of their sport. Today, I'm writing a post about a book called "Optimal Illusions."
To my dumb eyes, it makes at least four points.
One: We should beware the "deification of data."
Two: Optimization is a mathematical procedure purported to be rigorously objective and free of biases. But the mathematical analysis is often divorced from reality.
Three: Systems only work fantastically, when everything’s working fantastically.
Four: The basic skills needed to manipulate large datasets are taught everywhere today, but few students receive much grounding in the limitations of the data or the ethical implications of their work.
I remember working on a direct marketing campaign thirty years ago for a luxury German car. The data the company received from consumers presupposed that car-buyers based their buying decisions based on one of five qualities: value, safety, performance, comfort and luxury. Their direct responses were tailored based on which single attribute the customer had chosen.
I think a lot of "analytics," even today, is similarly marked by a lack of sophistication. My sense is that buying decisions are made by a complex and ever-changing web of factors. Trying to identify or isolate those factors, or rank them, or tailor marketing to them is all-but futile.
If I were to fill out a survey, I'd answer that I like tall blonde women. But I've been married to a short brunette for nearly 40 years. In fact, my head's been often turned by a variety of shapes, sizes and hues. That doesn't make me a letch, or non-discriminating. It makes me human.
I'm not out of step with the majority of data, the data is out of step with the majority of humans.
Finally, I'm not anti-data.
I'm anti the "deification of data."
One of my favorite writers, Mark Harris once said, "the only hero is the man without heroes."
Or so I'm told.