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Data

  • People, alas, are more impressed by statistics than they are by ideas.

  • 'Data' has become the default word used to describe the constantly generated, centrally stored evidence of our existence. I wasn't surprised to learn that the word 'data' comes from the Latin for 'to give,' and refers to something that is given or relinquished. It also feels significant that data rests at the very bottom of the so-called knowledge hierarchy — below information, knowledge and wisdom.

    • Carina Chocano,
    • "The Essence of Being Human Is Not Remembering but Forgetting," The New York Times Magazine ()
  • He worshiped figures, and the laws of figures. They were the only constancy in the universe. Women might scream and fall silent in the snow. Houses might lift up wings of flame and fly into oblivion in a few mad hours. Men might starve and steal and starve again. But figures, untouched and inviolate, held their ineffable sanity.

  • There's nothing so unreliable as figures, and everybody but a mathematician knows that. Figures lie right to your face.

  • We lisp in numbers, in the U.S. We are deluged by ample, often mysterious statistics. ... Like many in this country, I have come to regard statistics with doubt and merely as a hint of the probable shape of fact.

  • Everything is data. But data isn't everything.

    • Pauline Bart,
    • in Cheris Kramarae and Paula A. Treichler, A Feminist Dictionary ()
  • There is no more effective medicine to apply to feverish public sentiments than figures.

  • ... it was popularly supposed that figures couldn't lie, but they did; they lied like the dickens.

  • I do statistics. Not very exciting I suppose, but, as they say, there's safety in numbers.

    • Joyce Harrington,
    • "Mirror Image," in Marilyn Wallace, ed., Sisters in Crime 5 ()
  • In our mechanized society where thoughts as well as automobiles may be assembled in an automated factory, it is also, by some narrow logic, expedient to reduce children to those yes-no codes most easily processed by such a system. ... When life becomes one giant data-processing system, the winners are those with the greatest aptitude for being data.

  • Averages ... seduce us away from minute observation.

  • ... to understand God's thoughts we must study statistics, for these are the measure of his purpose.

    • Florence Nightingale,
    • in Karl Pearson, The Life, Letters and Labours of Francis Galton, vol. 2 ()
  • ... things in this world are very roughly averaged; and although averaging is a useful, rapid way of dispatching business, it does undoubtedly waste a great deal which is too good for wasting.

  • If truth can be found in any sublunary science, numbers will produce it, for to that at last almost all other sciences refer for confirmation.

    • Hester Lynch Piozzi,
    • letter to Dr. Johnson (1783), in R. Brimley Johnson, ed., The Letters of Mrs. Thrale ()
  • ... figures are clear and open, they hold nothing hidden, no secret they will not tell.

  • Surveys show that surveys never lie.

    • Natalie Angier,
    • "Men, Women, Sex, and Darwin," in The New York Times Magazine ()
  • ... scientists ... resist ... making more of the data than the data make of themselves.

  • When it comes to statistics, it's hard to know who to trust; research is almost always carried out by groups who know what they're looking for before they start and find the data they need to make their case.

  • Big Data processes codify the past. They do not invent the future. Doing that requires moral imagination, and that’s something only humans can provide. We have to explicitly embed better values into our algorithms, creating Big Data models that follow our ethical lead. Sometimes that will mean putting fairness ahead of profit.

  • The math-powered applications powering the data economy were based on choices made by fallible human beings. Some of these choices were no doubt made with the best intentions. Nevertheless, many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias into the software systems that increasingly managed our lives. Like gods, these mathematical models were opaque, their workings invisible to all but the highest priests in their domain: mathematicians and computer scientists. Their verdicts, even when wrong or harmful, were beyond dispute or appeal. And they tended to punish the poor and the oppressed in our society, while making the rich richer.