Why Data Is Like the Bible

Data is like the Bible in that people can make it say pretty much whatever they want it to say. Context is critical, but people quote data to justify just about anything imaginable, often without citing the source or explaining the story behind how they data was gathered.

Much like the Bible, I am most comfortable with people who approach data with an open mind and a sense that it should inform rather than drive decisions; and I cringe at those who use it as a tool for sorting, judging and applying condemnation instead of open doors to wisdom.

I'm a fan of the Bible. I'm also a fan of data. But if you're using either of these to cram ideology down my throat, chances are I quit listening a long time ago.
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John Spencer

John Spencer is a teacher, author, speaker, and incessant doodler. He is the co-author of Wendell the World's Worst Wizard and the co-founder of Write About. He is passionate about helping students develop into better writers and deeper thinkers.

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7 comments:

  1. This brings up an interesting question...what _does_ or _should_ drive ideology? Intuition? Theory sans data? Theory with contextualized data?

    Topic for a future post?

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  2. I think the answer is a combination: paradox, logic, emotion, intuition, experience, data. If it's not holistic and it's not practical, it's a dangerous form of ideology.

    Sometimes I wonder if the biggest danger is in being a purist. I thought about this when reading Jesus dealing with Pharisees. Purity matters. It has its place. But there is a dark side to choosing purity over everything else. You get puritanical. You get militant. Sometimes I think the data purists get dangerous, because they see data in a vacuum. There's not context. There's no emotion. There's nothing to it besides raw numbers.

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  3. My two cents:

    The most dangerous place for anyone with a Bible or a set of data is in a place where they stand to profit from it in terms of ego, money or anything else that moves them away from the human element.

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  4. The Bible, like any other publication, is a source of data. The data in the Bible is known to be both incorrect and incomplete. Big business will often publish selected data, omitting data that it believes may harm its profits: incomplete data. Piltdown Man was incorrect scientific data. CERN is open about the results from Large Hadron Collider: the data in the hunt for the Higgs boson is known to be incomplete, and may be incorrect.

    What we have here is people choosing sources of information to suit their personal agendas.

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  5. After trying to write several comments...and deleting several comments, I realize that this would make a great bar table conversation where my comments would have no permanent record.

    Mixing data with religion in a post is dangerous ;)

    History has shown what happens when leaders push their religious doctrine upon others, I wonder what the eventual impact will be of leaders pushing educational data upon our kids.

    Religious folks by their very nature of adhering to a certain religion rule out all others, I have found data folks in our school system rule out 99% of the possible ways we could be doing things just so that we can celebrate and believe in the data that they hold upon their alter.

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  6. Dear Paul,
    You're probably right about the danger inherent in this metaphor. The post is pretty tongue-in-cheek. But I love the perspective you brought in your comment. It was thought-provoking and respectful.

    ReplyDelete

Please leave a comment. I enjoy the conversation.