Bookshelf

When data deceives

Never mind big data -- John H. Johnson and Mike Gluck warn that the little data can create real confusion all by itself.

Chief data officers and data science teams are now fairly common across government -- an acknowledgment that specialized skills are needed to wring actionable insights out of the big data most agencies are creating. But what about the small data we are exposed to on a daily basis? How easily can it deceive us?

In "Everydata: The Misinformation Hidden in the Little Data You Consume Every Day," John H. Johnson and Mike Gluck warn that this is actually quite likely. They contend that too many Americans are essentially innumerate, and expertise in technology and management don't automatically translate into an understanding of the data concepts critical to processing the gigabytes of information that hit us every day.

They note that the space shuttle Challenger disaster stemmed from a sampling error. True outlier data, on the other hand, can ruin an analysis if it is not identified. Furthermore, predictive analytics are dangerous if the user doesn't understand the factors that go into such forecasts, and the way numbers are charted and graphed can mislead, even if the underlying data is devoid of error and bias.

Yet it doesn't take a data scientist to avoid such misunderstandings. Johnson and Gluck write for the generalist and devote a chapter each to seven core concepts. Readers seeking deeper dives can look elsewhere (including the glossary and notes that constitute the final quarter of the book), but "Everydata" alone is a quick investment in becoming a smarter data consumer.

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.


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