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Data = Truth?

Today I observed a Twitter conversation between Daniel Truman and Kelvin Newman during which Kelvin (perhaps light-heartedly) asked the following question:

Is this actually the case?

Firstly, data cannot be false but this doesn't mean it is necessarily the truth.

I'd liken it to the shadows on the wall of Plato's Cave; data is only a projection of reality.

I'm quite happy with this analogy:

  • You can get a far more accurate picture of what is actually happening if you can rotate or move the object and see how the projected shadow changes. This is similar to how running experiments or seeing the effect of actions on a data set makes reasoning about cause and effect more robust.
  • The projection could be a massive distortion of reality.
  • People who see different projections of the same object will interpret things differently.

I think it is possible to uniquely identify a 3D object given enough projections but in real life the objects are complicated and there is never enough data.

So is data the truth? No; it is a representation of it.

Authored by Richard Fergie