Like David Brooks, I am sick of hearing about big data and am deeply suspicious of over-reliance on data. Yes, data is all we have to measure the world, in some sense, but the presence of complicated confounding factors means that it’s very difficult to connect causal dots, generally speaking.
But Brooks’ example is stupid: a CEO decides not to pull his company out of Italy because he thinks doing so would make people trust the company less. Bobo implies that he’s doing this to get into heaven or make Burke happy or whatever, but the guy could have very well have decided that losing trust has some monetary value and that when you throw that in, it’s worth it to stay in Italy. If his analysts had told him that staying in Italy would destroy his company, I bet he would have pulled out. He used data, presumably, to make the decision that staying in Italy would not destroy his company. (Or maybe he doesn’t care, he just wants a big bonus…I don’t know but I bet he used data to make the decision in any case.)
Bobo always wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to cite sociological studies that use data to show we should live our lives in a more conservative way. But then he wants to say numbers, shmumbers when a study uses data to argue something he doesn’t agree with. I’d argue that’s the problem with neoconservatives in general, that the Straussian tradition of esoteric readings that says “sure Plato said that but he doesn’t mean it” (when Plato seems to have said something they don’t like) leads naturally to a tradition of finding “philosophical” objections to the use of data when it points the other way, and embracing it as the best kind of hard-nosed Burkeanism when it points your own way.
But here’s what gets me:
Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437),
437 is just a little less than 441 which is 21-squared, so I immediately estimated that the square root of 437 was 20.9 (which turns out to be accurate within 5 one-thousandths). Couldn’t he have picked a better example? The human brain *is* very bad at estimating square roots, but only when the numbers are reasonably large.
End of rant.