Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

The Bigger the Data, the Larger the Deception

ARCHIVES
Image via Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock.com

In 1987, on a summer Sunday morning, 300,000 people crammed onto the central span of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge—and came perilously close to participating in the largest accident in American history. The bridge’s engineers had made copious calculations and had designed it to sway nearly 28 feet and shoulder the burden of hundreds of vehicles. But nobody had ever predicted that a gigantic crowd of pedestrians, attracted by the 50th anniversary of its opening, would be stuck between its towering pylons unable to move in any direction. As a result, the bridge flattened out and came within whiskers of straining every last fiber of its vermilion superstructure.

The consequences of faulty data, wonky forecasts, ill-conceived opinions, loose predictions, incorrect assumptions and, in the case of the Golden Gate Bridge, an improbable event form the backbone of Nate Silver’s absorbing new book, The Signal and the Noise: Why Most Predictions Fail but Some Don’tThis book, written by the voice behind the popular election forecasting blog, FiveThirtyEight, now licensed by the New York Times, is a reminder that while data doesn’t lie, it does allow people to deceive themselves and others. In some cases it’s a question of the bigger the data, the grander the deception.

These days our entire lives revolve around predictions. Government departments project the cost of health exchanges, the rate of economic growth, next year’s crop yields, the future birth rate and the arms buildup of unfriendly countries. Websites and retailers anticipate what we want to find and buy; oil companies gauge the best sites for drilling; pharmaceutical companies assess the probable efficacy of molecules on a disease; while, in the background, the bobble-heads on television incessantly spew out largely irrelevant and inaccurate forecasts. In the meantime, we busy ourselves with personal projections. How long will our commute take? When will the turkey be golden? How much will the price of a stock rise? What will the future value be of a law degree?

Some of these forecasts are surprisingly accurate while others are shockingly dismal. Silver, who has become the Woody Allen of statisticians, explains the reasons. Like many others, the 34-year-old Silver became fascinated with numbers because of a boyhood devotion to baseball. Unlike his peers, Silver – after a brief and frustrating spell as a consultant – instinctively returned to the challenges of numbers. He took up internet poker (only to eventually discover that the odds were not in his favor) and, also started to unravel the riddles presented by data.

Read more at Quartz.

Image via Bruce Rolff/Shutterstock.com

FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

    Download
  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

    Download
  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

    Download
  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

    Download
  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.