Data, data everywhere
It’s already one week since I came back from the latest conference of IASSIST, the international association of data professionals. I now know several people in the field and I am becoming increasingly interested in data issues! To be sure, many of the topics they address are very technical and unlikely to concern many beyond the relatively small community of data librarians, documentalists, and database IT specialists. But some of the issues are common to many, and of increasing concern to us social scientists. I’ll highlight two:
- Teaching students to use data as part of their learning experience. It must be common to all fellow academics to notice how numbers immediately and instinctively act as a barrier: just ask students to download a simple table and you will see horror on their faces… not to mention if you tell them to do even the simplest sum or count! And yet, when they manage to go beyond this first barrier, to open their first table of numbers, they realise that it isn’t necessarily that difficult: and it can even be playful and pleasant! The difficulty at this stage, as in a videogame, is at a higher level: telling them data are not just toys to play with. We want data to help us make sense of something relevant in the real world, and to do so, we need theory to guide us in how we extract information from these data. It is quite a challenge to convey this message, even with the more numerate students (and sometimes even with fellow academics to tell the truth).
- Assessing how “big data” are likely to change our very experience with data and the way we use them. Librarians are (rightly) worried about issues such as storage and transmission, and emphasize the importance of metadata to track what is available and to make sense of it. We social data users, should follow them in this concern and give ever more thought to the quality and meaning of data. Otherwise, we can’t just assume that the deluge of data that is coming about will automatically address our informational needs, though some may believe the contrary. Data, as professionals in this area have always known, don’t speak by themselves: and big data may make the problem worse instead of better.
Filed under: Data, Research, Social science methodology | Leave a Comment
Tags: Big data, Social science data, Teaching
I am an economic sociologist with interest in social networks and their impact on markets, organisations, consumer choice and health.
My research also includes work in social science methodology and data.
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