Are we effective in presenting education data to help tackle the real issues that developing countries are facing? The education community continues to be puzzled by two realities: (1) crucial data is often not available and (2) available data is often hard to digest.
In a recent blog post on stories, and following some themes from an earlier talk by Tyler Cowen, David Evans ends by suggesting: “Vivid and touching tales move us more than statistics. So let’s listen to some stories… then let’s look at some hard data and rigorous analysis before we make any big decisions.” Stories, in this sense, are potentially idiosyncratic and over-simplified and, therefore, may be misleading as well as moving. I acknowledge that this is a dangerous situation.
However, there are a couple things that are frustrating about the above quote, intentional or not.
- First, it equates ‘hard data’ with ‘statistics,’ as though qualitative (text/word) data cannot be hard (or, by implication, rigorously analysed). Qualitative twork – even when producing ‘stories’ – should move beyond mere anecdote (or even journalistic inquiry).
- Second, it suggests that the main role of stories (words) is to dress up and humanize statistics – or, at best, to generate hypotheses for future research. This seems both unfair and out-of-step with increasing calls for mixed-methods to take our understanding beyond ‘what works’ (average treatment effects) to ‘why’ (causal mechanisms) – with ‘why’ probably being fairly crucial to ‘decision-making’ (Paluck’s piece worth checking out in this regard).
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Big data: 4 predictions for 2014
"One could look back at 2013 and consider it the breakthrough year for big data, not in terms of innovation but rather in awareness. The increasing interest in big data meant it received more mainstream attention than ever before. Indeed, the likes of Google, IBM, Facebook and Twitter all acquired companies in the big data space. Documents leaked by Edward Snowden also revealed that intelligence agencies have been collecting big data in the form of metadata and, amongst other things, information from social media profiles for a decade." READ MORE
The rise of civil society groups in Africa
"Under the glaring sun of a recent Monday, an unusual group of protesters marched on the streets of Kampala, Uganda’s capital, all dressed in black “to mourn the loss of Uganda’s public money through corruption,” as some of them pointedly explained to reporters. “Return our money and resign,” read one of the slogans they brandished. Since November 2012, on the first Monday of each month, the Black Monday Movement—a coalition of local NGOs and civil society groups—has taken to the streets to highlight the effects of corruption in Uganda and to press public officials to act." READ MORE
Our Top Ten Blog Posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on January 8, 2013
The newest trend in Big Data is the personal touch. When both the New York Times and Fast Company have headlines that trumpet: “Sure, Big Data Is Great. But So Is Intuition.” (The Times) and “Without Human Insight, Big Data Is Just A Bunch Of Numbers.” (Fast Company) you know that a major trend is afoot.
So what’s up?
The claims for what Big Data can do have been extraordinary, witness Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s seminal article in October in the Harvard Business Review: “Big Data: The Management Revolution,” which began with the showstopper: “‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure.’” It’s hard not to feel that Big Data will provide the solutions to everything after that statement. As the HBR article noted: “…the recent explosion of digital data is so important. Simply put, because of big data, managers can measure, and hence know, radically more about their businesses, and directly translate that knowledge into improved decision making and performance.”
Statistical agencies in the Middle East and North Africa have now started to open up access to their raw datasets (micro-data). In a break with their old ways, they have begun either to post them on their websites or to share them on a bilateral basis. To support this wind of change, a group of donors active in the statistical domain and avant-garde partner countries joined forces for the first time to launch the Data Improvement and Quality in Access initiative (DIQA – which reads as “precision” in Arabic).
Countries coming out of crises undergo rapid structural changes, including migration and big economic shifts. This can complicate the measurement of their progress, sometimes in unexpected ways, as we found out recently in Sierra Leone.
“Fear is a far more dominant force in human behavior than euphoria – I would never have expected that or given it a moment’s thought before but it shows up in the data in so many ways.”
- Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the United States Federal Reserve Board of Governors, 1987-2006.
In just about a week, on Thursday November 28, people all over the United States will kick off the "holiday season" with the celebration of Thanksgiving Day. While the day's significance is both historical and profound, in modern times it consists of a lot of shopping and a big meal with family and friends gathered around the dinner table. Pre-thanksgiving is a time to be on the lookout for creative new recipes. Sure, we can get recipes from magazines, websites and friends and while they may be special, they will not be unique. Wouldn’t it be nice to have an app that would create a special unique recipe just for you? A delightful recipe that has never been executed before. Well the idea is not as futuristic as it sounds. It may be here sooner than you think. IBM and big data have a lot to do with this particular innovation.
Can computers be creative? IBM thinks they can. IBM scientists Lav R. Varshney and other members of an IBM team, have used data sets and proprietary algorithms in the daunting field of the culinary arts to develop a computational creativity system. The data sets they have used are recipes, molecular level food related data and data about the compounds, ingredients and dishes that people like and dislike. They then developed an algorithm that produces thousands or millions of new ideas from the recipes. The recipes are then evaluated to select the best ones that combine ingredients in a way that has never been attempted before. Humans can interact with the system by choosing a key ingredient and the kind of cuisine.
New developments and curiosities from a changing global media landscape: People, Spaces, Deliberation brings trends and events to your attention that illustrate that tomorrow's media environment will look very different from today's, and will have little resemblance to yesterday's.
This week's Media (R)evolutions: China is an Internet Sleeping Giant.
Global flows of cross-border remittances exceed $500 billion in money transfers across a dizzying array of bilateral corridors. With over 200 countries, send-receive combinations exceed forty thousand. Moreover, the variables that drive these cross-border flows hinge on a multitude of factors from migration flows, economic growth, historical connections and more. In short, it’s an explosion of diversity that can be hard to fully comprehend and envision.