Morten Jerven Morten Jerven

Why so grumpy? The datarevolution and its discontents

In “Big Questions for Big Data and what it can do for African Economic Development” I wrote about some of the basic knowledge problems that remain in development statistics, and concluded that, as of yet, Big Data does not seem well equipped in addressing these. I got two kind of grumpy twitter responses from the Open Data Watch and Claire Melamed, who really don’t appreciate if you question the wisdom of the tagline in the data revolution report: a world that counts.

It is not the first time we had a debate on this – see the comment section in the piece I wrote for the Guardian. So what are those sentences?

“Never again should it be possible to say ‘we didn’t know’. No one should be invisible. This is the world we want – a world that counts.”

So for the record, I fundamentally disagree with these sentences. It should always be possible to say that we did not know, to think that we can count everything and therefore know everything is fundamentally wrong. These are not three obscure sentences, it is the tagline of the report, setting out the spirit of the ‘data revolution’. At best this is naive, at worst, it is dangerously misleading.


One thought on Why so grumpy? The datarevolution and its discontents

  1. Hi Morten, while we’re putting things on the record, I am very relaxed and not at all grumpy about your criticisms of the IEAG report. I don’t agree, of course, but none of these things are absolute truths and debate is always welcome, as I think I’ve already proved in the exchange we had in the comments section under your earlier piece.

    My grumpiness was about your insertion of a non-sequitur (and one that just repeated the points you’d made already) about ‘A World that Counts’ into your otherwise interesting blog on a somewhat different topic, purely, it seems, for the sake of having another go at the IEAG.

    That does not feel to me like a useful basis on which to engage, and this rather personalised blog has simply reinforced that impression.

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