The Philosophy of Data


David Brooks has a piece in the New York Times on the Philosophy of Data. It’s a fairly short piece that sets out a bit of an agenda for thinking about the possibilities of data. Much of it will be familiar to social researchers, but the piece reiterates some of the potentials. I was expecting the piece to be about new forms of digital data, it hints at this but uses more traditional data in the examples. Here are four short excerpts that give a sense of the argument:

I confess I enter this in a skeptical frame of mind, believing that we tend to get carried away in our desire to reduce everything to the quantifiable. But at the outset let me celebrate two things data does really well.

First, it’s really good at exposing when our intuitive view of reality is wrong.

Second, data can illuminate patterns of behavior we haven’t yet noticed.

In sum, the data revolution is giving us wonderful ways to understand the present and the past. Will it transform our ability to predict and make decisions about the future? We’ll see.

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