By Simon Cocking review of Dark Data: Why What You Don’t Know Matters by David J. Hand available from Princeton Press here.
In the era of big data, it is easy to imagine that we have all the information we need to make good decisions. But in fact the data we have are never complete, and may be only the tip of the iceberg. In DARK DATA, David Hand – data expert and author of The Improbability Principle – explores the many ways in which we can be blind to missing data and how that can lead us to conclusions and actions that are mistaken, dangerous, or even disastrous.
Examining a wealth of real-life examples, from the Challenger shuttle explosion to complex financial frauds, Hand offers a practical taxonomy of the types of dark data that exist and the situations in which they can arise, so that we can learn to recognize and control for them. Hand shows how dark data can be used to our advantage, leading to greater understanding and better decisions.
Review of Dark Data: Why What You Don’t Know Matters
This is a topical and relevant book. While Donald Rumsfeld’s speech about the different types of unknowns, from known unknowns to unknown unknowns was orginally mocked, in many ways it has turned out to be a prescient and smart observation.
Hand knows his subject well and takes us on a tour de force of the many, varied reasons why data, and the elements that we don’t have – the dark data – is such a complex area to get right. In the software industry the observation of ‘garbage in, garbage out’ is equally as relevant across a much wider range of activities.
In many ways the deeper you go into this book, the more you begin to wonder how any scientific research ever manages to get anything right, particularly due to the difficulty in often managing to be able to replicate new innovations and breakthroughs in different laboratories.
Hand is a good and able guide to take us through the many aspects of dark data that are potentially skewing our understanding of real world observations and potential scientific breakthroughs. He writes in an accessible and understandable way too, so this book can be read by a wider audience than just the scientific community.
At times you begin to wonder how anyone ever manages to get anything right, seeing as there are so many ways in which data can be gathered incorrectly and then misunderstood when it is analysed. This however further illustrates the importance of a book like this. It should perhaps be read by anyone attempting to test and validate any hypothesis they are workin on. A good, provocative read, check it out, especially now, with so much bad science clogging up the potential important observations.
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