Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Oh Hard Data!

I am wasting my Economist subscription which I will not renew when it comes due next year. Occasionally they send some interesting stuff to my inbox. This is a subject I am relatively familiar with.

Going to church is a poor proxy for personal faith. It measures piety more than anything else when you discover time and again how adherents of any major religion know so little about their scriptures much less practice them. My point? I am not writing about religion in this post. I am just reminding myself how useful or lacking that hard data is. Policy makers elevate the importance of hard data without sufficient regard to what the data is and where it is from and especially how it is collected.

Data mining today is mostly about applying math to hard data. It will not stop at that but move beyond to verbal data eventually. Making sense of our environment and the world is still an art which requires open, curious and skeptical minds. The politics of committees and correctness inevitably lean us one way or the other leading to costly mistakes when hard data is plentiful. So I think government agencies with plenty of hard data are more at risk of making mistakes than those without it especially MFA. In the absence of hard data they bring to the task a sense of realism which they keep refining to get more real all the time. Just as Science is the basis for Engineering, Foreign Policy is the basis for our survival and will override the many wrong conclusions from hard data. It might have saved us many times without us being aware. Just look at the track record of those nations where foreign policy is a luxury. These are usually the big powers which try to dictate their policies to other states. They often have numerous pockets with low quality of life despite their country wealth and power because they do stupid things using hard data and special interests as the invisible guiding hand.

That map from the Economist might be intriguing but it is not very useful for anything else except satisfying curiosity.

Update: 8:10am

The next article in that email from the Economist. Niamey the new data driven result center of Christianity is in Africa. So the next story must be one from that continent right? That is being correct isn't it?

See the pic, full of piety but I rather these Christians imbibe the values and life of Jesus of the Gospels instead. Narrow piety eventually becomes exclusive and at some point end up as clashes with those who are not like you. Modern Islam has gone down this road farther than any.

In the next year as when we first come to rely so much on computers, data will be used to make us stupid because dumb people who cannot or are too lazy to think will let the data speak for themselves. Well at least economists have learned to avoid this trap because they have been wrong so regularly. Keep trying and do develop the convictions to use only one hand. I think economists mostly do not read the Economist eh?

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