Is Data the Western World’s New Religion?
Tim Harford in Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On
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In this episode, Andrew is joined by Tim Harford, author of The Data Detective, to discuss the evolution of record keeping and statistics, and whether or not data should ever be taken at face value.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: I wonder if our religion today in the West—of western-educated, industrialized, rich, democratic people—our religion is data itself. Is that the new faith, the thing that has replaced the Roman Catholic Church?
Tim Harford: Well, I wonder. Because if so, people seem to have an awful lot of doubt about it. You can’t mention statistics without hearing people talk about “damned lies and statistics.” I think possibly we have a more religious attitude to algorithms, to these mysterious forces that we don’t fully understand, poring over datasets that we are not allowed to look at, and then somehow we tell ourselves that it all works out. There’s a chapter about that in The Data Detective and what we might want to do about that. But I see that as slightly different to uncritically worshiping the data itself. Certainly my own experience is that there’s not much worship and there’s plenty of criticism.
Tim Harford is an award-winning columnist, broadcaster, and economist. He is the author of Messy, Fifty Inventions That Shaped the Modern Economy, and the million-selling The Undercover Economist, and is the host of the Cautionary Tales podcast. He is an honorary fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, and in 2019 he was awarded an OBE for services to improving economic understanding.