Seth Godin had a blog post a week or so ago about data – and how everyone wants more data, so they can prove their point.
We live in the Information Age now. There's a common misconception that we entered the Informatin Age as a byproduct of computers. But we had an infatuation with data before computers were very common. It makes me think of the McNamara Fallacy, named for Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. At a time when computers where not all that common, McNamara had a four-step process for reaching conclusions by exzamining the data:
- The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured.
- The second step is to disregard that which can't easily be measured.
- The third step is to presume that what can't be measured easily really isn't important.
- The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist.
Of course, step one is okay (for what it's worth). But the second step is misleading, the third step is blindness and the fourth step is suicide (or insanity).
McNamara left office in 1967.
Information is a marvelous thing. But given enough of it (and enough time) you can prove almost anything with it. And, as Seth says, "The problem is this: no spreadsheet, no bibliography and no list of resources is sufficient proof to someone who chooses not to believe. The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it's one the rest of us don't think is a good one."
Know what you beleive. The data comes after that…