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Insight/ Market Research

What Data Can And Cannot Do

Jonathan Gray argues that aspiring data journalists and civic data hackers should strive to cut back on data-driven hype and to cultivate a more critical literacy towards their subject matter The current wave of excitement about data, data technologies and all things data-driven might lead one to suspect that this machine-readable, structured stuff is a special case. The zeitgeist at times bears an uncannily resemblance to the optimism of a loose-knit group of scientists, social scientists, and philosophers at the start of the 20th century, who thought they could eschew value-laden narratives for an objective, fact-driven model of the world. "Facts are sacred" says the Guardian Datablog and "for a fact-based worldview" says Gapminder. The thought of tethering our reportage, analyses and reflection to chunks of data-given truth is certainly consoling. But the notion that data gives us special direct access to the way things are is – for the most part – a chimera.

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