Earnest question: how do you deal with the age old “lies, damned lies and statistics” question?
Ersin Akinci

A fair point, and definitely something we’ve given some thought to. I think you’re right to break this into two components — there’s using data to tell a lie (either through outright falsification or statistical slights of hand) and then there’s using valid analyses of the data to further a given narrative. One of these is wrong and detrimental to progress, whereas the other, I would argue, is the expected and hoped-for outcome in a society defined by its constant self-evaluation.

Using statistics to outright lie or obfuscate the truth, most of us would agree, is as wrong as lying in any other medium. I also believe that any solution to halting these falsehoods (and “fake news” in general) will require a combination of empowering online communities to better self-regulate and identify these falsehoods and, perhaps more importantly, in improving our collective literacy in separating fact from fiction.

But it seems that you’re particularly concerned about the latter point, that over-saturation of data could lead to us all just reinforcing our existing narratives. While we all seem to have a profound capacity to wall ourselves off in our own intellectual bubbles, I think that increased access to data only helps to challenge these narratives and our preconceived notions, in two important ways:

First, as long as data analysis remains a restrictive or expensive task, it will be under the purveyance of those institutions who already have power, and the narratives generated through data will continue to support those systems of power.

Second, what we call a “narrative” is often just what we use to fill in the gaps in the data; the narrative codifies the unknown within our own particular worldview. If A and C are true, any narrative that draws a line between A and C could also be true, until we can define B and prove that many of those paths are wrong. Data discovery and dissemination increases the points that lie along our narratives, and potentially challenges them. We envision Redivis as a host to all of these valid, though partisan, data-driven debates, and that the truth will be found at the locust of all these competing stories.

Yes, many of us will continue to only consume content that aligns with our world view. It’s easier. But at the edges, we will be challenged, misperceptions and falsehoods will be revealed, and with a little luck, we’ll chaotically limp forward as a better informed society.

… Or we’ll bury our heads in the sand as the oceans rise around us.

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