Why Big Data Won't Cure Us

Gina Neff, Oct 22, 2014
Commentary by Stephen Downes

One of the flaws of contemporary economics is that it postulates the economically rational consumer who will always choose in his or her best interest. We know, however, that this is rarely the case, and that the economy is beset by forces that are essentially irrational. The same problem applies to big data. As Gina Neff writes, "At last year's Stanford Medicine X Conference, a speaker confidently gave a simple, linear equation: 'Data leads to knowledge which leads to change.' This seemed sensible enough to most in the room because it reflects the values of quantified self and data-driven health innovation. An audience member, however, changed the tone of the discussion by responding, 'If knowledge translated into behavior we wouldn't need psychologists.' At the heart of many current attempts at data-driven health is a powerfully seductive but inherently flawed model of the relationship of data to knowledge, interpretation, and action."

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