Bad Science and Big Data

I am currently sat on my bed, surrounded by papers and notebooks all about science. To be more precise, statistics and the research methods that go with them. This week is exam week at university and I am slap-bang in the middle of my exams. Admittedly, I only have two, but being in my last year, there is plenty of added pressure involved. The exam tomorrow could be about anything from publication bias to Bayesian statistics (there are some wonderful YouTube music parodies about these), and so I have been busy reading up on them and going over all my wonderful notes.

I have also been reading two, rather delightful, books on the subject. The first of these was ‘Big Data’ by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger and Kenneth Cukier. Its subheading reads: ‘A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think’, and that is precisely what the book is about. Big Data is fascinating, and so very relevant. Large corporations are constantly collecting data on the smallest of details, from Facebook to Google, and can pretty much be used to predict everything. An example of this given in the book is Google using data collected from it’s search function to work out the spread of a virus. However, it does have it’s dark side, very reminiscent of Orwell’s ‘1984’. The book itself describes all sides of big data in a very clear manner. It is easy to read and yet in no way do you feel patronised. It is a great starting point if you are interested in big data, or statistics in general and I felt I learnt so much from reading it.

The second book is ‘Bad Science’ by Ben Goldacre, the scourge of scientific journalism in mainstream media. This book is witty and entertaining, yet also quite terrifying. I won’t go into the stories hidden between it’s pages, so not to ruin the impact of it if you decide to read it, but they provide a fantastic insight into how mass media scares can come about while also teaching you about how to do good science and what is wrong with the current scientific environment. The build up to the final story is well done and, although there were times when I got a bit tired reading it, it is a strangely addictive book.

Both ‘Bad Science’ and ‘Big Data’ have taught me lots about research methods in science and, sitting here in bed in the middle of a study break, I hope I can do them proud in my exam tomorrow. Even if I don’t, I do feel like my understanding of the world and statistics has improved, and I will certainly be examining news articles in a lot more details from now on. I am very much suitably paranoid.

If you do want to give the books a go, you can find them at the Book Depository, of which I am an affiliate (and so receive a small commission if you buy them through the link)

Big Data: http://www.bookdepository.com/Big-Data-Kenneth-Cukier/9781848547926/?a_aid=RosieNReads

Bad Science: http://www.bookdepository.com/Bad-Science-Ben-Goldacre/9780007284870/?a_aid=RosieNReads

My General Affiliate link to the site is: http://www.bookdepository.com/?a_aid=RosieNReads, if you would just like to browse.

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