big data

Too big to know

I read our assigned reading—chapters 4 and 5 of David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know (ISBN 978-0-465-02142-0)—on the train, so I didn’t have any “resources” when I thought something wasn’t right, but I still spotted three obvious problems while reading.

Weinberger argues that “mere diversity of ethnicity is not” relevant (p. 74, second-last line), which he based off Scott Page’s The Difference. While Page is someone I respect a lot, I have to disagree to the categorical claim that “mere diversity of ethnicity is not.” According to Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, mere diversity of ethnicity (or rather the history of the person’s ancestors, even if the person’s life circumstances have been completely disconnected from those of their ancestors) can be relevant—for reasons that are not yet understood.

The second problem is that Weinberger quoted Howard Rheingold as saying “Even the mere presence of moderators—even if they never moderate a single posting—is enough to keep out the trolls” (p. 78, second paragraph, last two lines) and believed it at that. This might have been true in the olden days, but anyone who is on an open group on LinkedIn and plagued by a never-ending spam problem can attest that the “mere presence” of moderators is not enough; in fact even the presence of hard-working moderators who moderate hundreds of articles (as is the case of AIGA’s official group) is not enough to deter trolls.

The third obvious problem is that he stated that “of sixty randomly chosen political sites, only 15 percent put in links to sites of their opponents” (p. 82, paragraph 3, lines 4–5) and thought this signals a problem. However, whoever has worked in an organization knows that perhaps upper management is just apprehensive of linking to anything. The lack of linking is not indicative of a problem except if you consider ignorance of what links mean to be a problem (but I do consider this to be a problem, especially when many lawyers seem to count among the ignorant ones…).

In any case, I will continue reading after I get the urgent stuff done. Maybe my opinion of it will change, or maybe it will not; as for right now, I think while his argument has merit, it also has holes, and, judging from what these holes are in the two chapters I have read, probably quite a number of them.

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