American Elephants

Can You Trust “Big Data?” Not Really, Nor Little Data Either. by The Elephant's Child

big-data-skills-in-demand-are-a-mix-of-old-and-new-v21You have a computer by which you can visit this blog. So tell me, how do you get your news? The younger Millennials seem to get theirs from Facebook and Twitter and other social sites. Democrats rely on reliably Progressive websites, and Republicans assume from that bit of information that Democrats are unfamiliar with any websites that disagree with their conclusions.

Do you depend on “name” websites that you trust because everybody else seems to list them? Do you pay attention to a lot of individual bloggers (well, you’re here, so possibly you do.) What I’m getting at is who can you believe and who do you trust? What got me off on that theme was an article from February 22 of this year about “Big Data” in the Wall Street Journal, by Michael Malone. If the link doesn’t work, Google it, and do read the comments.

I wasn’t quite sure what “Big Data” was, compared to—little Data, so I looked it up. Merriam Webster: data: 1. factual information (as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning or calculation. 2. information output by a sensing device or organ that includes both useful and irrelevant or redundant information and must be processed to be meaningful. 3. information in numerical form that can be digitally transmitted or processed. That is, perhaps, helpful, but not exactly confidence building.

Hillary Clinton’s ‘Invisible Guiding Hand‘ had a statistician behind every strategic decision named Elan Kriegel.”To understand Kriegel’s role is to understand how Clinton has run her campaign—precise and efficient, meticulous and effective, and, yes, at times more mathematical than inspirational. Clinton advisers say almost no major decision is made…without first consulting Kriegel. ” That worked out well. But is perhaps a clue to Hillary’s uninspiring campaign.

At Maggie’s Farm, one of the group of authors had an article last year that I saved titled “Are We Overly Reliant on Data?” And his reflections on daring to ask the question.

A USAToday headline from September: The “VA quit sending performance data to national health quality site.” Saw an article today about a veteran who was unable to get the care he needed when a wound was full of maggots in a VA Hospital, and shortly died of sepsis.

From Climate Depot: “Italian meteorologist Colonel Paolo Ernan: Data manipulated to make people believe in global warming.” Well, yes.  It has long been apparent that alarm about global warming exists only in the computer programs devised to emulate the real climate of the Earth. They put into their programs what we know about climate, what we think we know, what they thought was likely and lots of pure guesswork. We know a little about El Nino and La Nina, for example, but we don’t know or understand much of anything about the actions of clouds. And if you want to know what is going to happen in 50 years, you’ll have to wait for 50 years to find out if you were right.

Holman Jenkins, writing in the Wall Street Journal at the end of August, 2014, “Big Data and Chicago’s Traffic-cam Scandal.”

Big data techniques are new in the world. It will take time to know how to feel about them and whether and how they should be legally corralled. For sheer inanity, though, there’s no beating a recent White House report quivering about the alleged menace of “digital redlining,” or the use of big-data marketing tactics in ways that supposedly disadvantage minority groups.

This alarm rests on an extravagant misunderstanding. Redlining was a crude method banks used to avoid losses in bad neighborhoods even at the cost of missing some profitable transactions—exactly the inefficiency big data is meant to improve upon. Failing to lure an eligible customer into a sale, after all, is hardly the goal of any business.

The real danger of the new technologies lies elsewhere, which the White House slightly touches upon in some of its fretting about police surveillance. The danger is microscopic regulation of our daily activities that we will invite on ourselves through the democratic process.

It seems that when you hear the term “The data tells us…” a caution flag should rise. You need to investigate a lot further. But everyone is relying on data, especially ‘big data.’ Hillary did, and is paying the price.  Her team pretty much shut Bill out. Bill certainly has some major problems with, um, integrity, but he has always had excellent political instincts. On the other hand, Hillary does not have any. But there you go, water under the bridge.

Who can you trust? Not much of anybody. Whatever it is, check it out. Governments at all levels are too ready to rely on what they are told is authoritative. We are all too dependent on our computers, but they are changing our world, and our dependence is making us more vulnerable.

ADDENDUM: Rereading this, I’m not at all sure I made myself clear. I am not railing at data. It is simply a fact of life, and as we use our computers, our choices and comments and what we just looked at becomes data. The search engines on which we rely for information— rely on us for information they can sell to marketers. If you drop by Amazon, as I did, find that they are having a sale on bras, you will be followed around the internet with a choice selection of what you looked at, all day.   As algorithms develop and refine searches, they will only get more intrusive. And we need good data, yet there is always the danger of over-dependence. Our only defense is a highly-developed common sense.

The case of computerized climate science is important. Climate alarmism, the belief that Earth is in danger, that the climate is changing and we have to save mankind has always been completely phony, but there are millions of true believers. The climate has been changing for millions of years. There are warm periods and ice ages. When the thermometers that the computer programs depend on for their data are situated next to air-conditioner vents or where acres of concrete reflect heat onto them, or they back up to a trash burner, the data is not going to be good. Ice cores help to tell about the past, tree rings are not so infallible.Satellite records are excellent, but don’t stretch far into the past.The rise of the oceans is measured in millimeters, not feet and in spite of Michael Mann’s claim that we’ll all be in trouble if the CO2 gets above 350 ppm,  greenhouses happily pump in 1,000 ppm to help their plants grow —you know there is something haywire about their data. Yet because the data is politically popular and governments act upon it, it becomes dangerous.

The World Has Changed and Obama Hasn’t Even Noticed. by The Elephant's Child

Liberals, Progressives, Statists under whatever name, always seem to speak from the same playbook. They use the same words; one must presume they think the same things; they hate Conservatives and Republicans and especially the Tea Party, but their hatred seems so confused. They celebrated the “Occupy” movement as noble opposition to the Tea Party, yet Tea party people were groups of ordinary citizens alarmed by government spending and the tripling of the national debt under Obama. Peaceful, clean, orderly, they must have frightened the Left inordinately since visible protest was assumed to be characteristic of Democrats, not their opposition.

Politics. for Progressives. is a religion. Everything is political and the political is everything. Yet the world around them changes, and nobody notices. For decades, the nation has been deadlocked over America’s limited natural resources, the environment, the pristine Alaskan wilderness. As Kim Strassel noted in the Wall Street Journal, it has been an argument about scarcity, decline, depletion and want.

Newt Gingrich, who always notes the new big ideas, is trying to bring it to national attention. The decline is over, passé, done. America and the world are embarking on a seismic energy shift. America is rich in resources; oil and gas and coal are abundant. We are resource rich and ready to embark as the largest energy producer in the world, with all the money, jobs and benefits that come with it.

The shift could create millions of new jobs, a new cash stream to the government, a heartland argument since abundant, cheap energy is the way to enrich and expand our manufacturing base.

Mr. Obama is already shamelessly taking credit for the increase in energy production on private land (that he has nothing to do with), to offset his major theme of a fantasy green energy that will — someday and under government mandates — reduce our “addiction” to foreign oil. Government is the answer, and Obama will mold us into obedient consumers of his preferred energy sources.  It’s just that they keep going out of business.

State after state has required of their utilities that they purchase enough alternative energy to produce the percentage of energy specified by the legislature, and state after state has failed to meet those goals. Wind and solar are old, old technologies.

Modern turbines are ever so huge and impressive, towering to stretch for some place in the air where the wind blows consistently and the turbines can spin as their “capacity” promised. But they are chasing the wrong solution. The problem is in the nature of the wind, and the nature of sunlight. The wind is too intermittent and seldom produces more than 20% of “capacity”, and the sun is too diffuse and sinks beneath the horizon just when it gets dark and people need light.

But Obama has the answer. He will bring down high gas prices by attacking the oil companies. He will raise their tax bills, and use a little class warfare to rile up the proles. “Every time you fill up the gas tank, they’re making money” was the applause line from the president’s speech in Nashua, N.H. Resent the rich oil companies, ask your congressman to end the reasonable oil-and-gas industry tax deductions for drilling costs and the technical aspects of production. Is the suggestion then that oil companies should not make a profit? How else does Obama expect them to finance the search for oil, the dry holes, the court battles with environmentalists. There are large numbers of people who assume that business should do things for free. It’s an ugly way of doing politics.

Yet the president who insists that he is doing everything he can to bring down the cost of oil; is instead trying to raise the price of oil to force acceptance of his fantasy of green energy. The rhetoric does not match the actions. But then it never did.

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