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The Backlash Against Big Data

A recent article in the Economist asks ‘why the backlash’ against data? Several articles have been written across a broad spectrum of established journals/news outlets that are very much anti-big data, yet the Economist responds with a counter point – a counter question even: Are we not just at an early adoption phase, similar to that of the Internet or television? Is this backlash in fact, quite natural?

As a quick reminder, when discussing ‘big data’, we are essentially referring to what is now possible in terms of large data analysis. Never before have we had access to such large amounts of data, thanks to the Internet, faster computers and better methods of data collection, to name a few key factors. So, as this article asks, why the backlash?

The Economist points to three key flaws of big data, explained fully in the original article. I say this, but really they are flaws with data analysis rather than the concept of big data. Moving the reader away from arguments against (or even for) big data, the key focus of the article is that ‘behind the big data backlash is the classic hype cycle, in which a technology’s early proponents make overly grandiose claims, people sling arrows when those promises fall flat, but the technology eventually transforms the world, though not necessarily in ways the pundits expected.’ Specifically, The Economist highlights previous inventions in ‘the web, television, radio, motion pictures and the telegraph before it. Now it is simply big data’s turn to face the grumblers.’ It is only natural to have people oppose the apparent value that big data brings, especially given the challenges around data collection and analysis, but is that a reason to write it off, or just a natural part of its evolution?

So with this post, perhaps a challenge is to be issued. Rather than trying to ignore big data on one side of the debate, or becoming big data evangelists on the other, maybe we should be asking what we can do to help drive the conversation forward in terms of its practical application.


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