Skepticism in the Data Ecosystem

In my Septembinformedskepticser 14, 2015 blog entitled: Evolving in the Data Ecosystem – The Data Deluge and Emotions, I talked about how the volume of data we encounter is making us more confused and skeptical. I asked how much skepticism is healthy when dealing with data.

I would agree with Mike Loukides that skepticism about data is normal, and can even be a good thing. Data science is a way to incorporate skepticism to improve data analysis and data management. But how skeptical should the average person who’s not a data scientist be when it comes to data? Is too much skepticism causing us to miss the important data?

A 2012 Harvard Business Review study featured in an article by Shvetank Shah categorized employees into three groups with regards to data-driven decision making. There are the “unquestioning empiricists” that trust data more than judgment, “visceral decisionmakers” that go exclusively with their gut feelings and the “informed skeptics” that effectively balance data with judgment. In their study of 5,000 employees at 22 global companies, they found only half of senior managers and 38% of employees fell into the “informed skeptics” group that are the ones best equipped to make sound business decisions. A healthy dose of skepticism is necessary, along with good judgment to act on the data you have. By listening, thinking about, fact checking and testing out the data or theory, you can become an “informed skeptic.”

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