It’s fall, so that means I’m firmly ensconced in classwork again, this time in two theory courses. Theory is an interesting thing; it’s such a wide-open world, and it’s exciting to plummet into the depths of it, but it doesn’t always translate well to practice. The goal of the program I’m in is to help translate theory into practice – something that’s sometimes easier said than done. That got me to musing a bit about my academic career…
A prophet, in the religious sense, is a person who has a direct line to a god or divine entity, and is acting as a conduit between the divine and humanity. In more recent years, the word prophet has been applied to economists and statisticians. (Nate Silver anyone?) See wikipedia for more fun facts about prophets in major world religions. See Nate Silver’s website if you occasionally have nightmares of Trump winning and need some reassurance.
What I love about the field of statistics is that we describe trends and predict things, then bring those things to leaders and say, “Here’s what we think may happen.” We tell stories using data. We’re narrative builders. We’re predictors of the future.
That would, of course, make data the new god. Our deity, Big Data, hallowed be thy name. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? The other day, I purchased a new brand of dog food. Suddenly ads for that dog food pop up on all my social media sites, and in my gmail account. Big Data knows all. I sent some emails about the frustrations of being childfree (by choice). I stopped seeing ads for baby formula or birthing centers. Big Data sees all.
Data does not lie. But humans make data imperfect. Humans misinterpret. Humans act unethically. Humans introduce bias into the narratives, or change the narrative to suit their needs. Just like they do to gods.
And analysts are here to correct that. Just like prophets once did.