Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Inevitable Isn’t Inevitable
There is no good in arguing with the inevitable.
James Lowell (1819-1891), Democracy
In a free-wheeling Democracy like the U.S., nothing is inevitable.  I will argue here,  that depending on unpredictable events, people will always reserve the right to change their minds no matter what the computers predict.
Take the Big Data or Megadata revolution.  In  yesterday’s WSJ (“The Big Data Future Has Arrived,” February 23,  veteran writer  Michael S. Malone,  argues that Big Data will  transform our lives because it will delineate how we think,  how we vote,  how we maintain our health,  how we shop, and what we buy.  
Big Data,  Malone believes,  will reshape our lives.  Maybe so.   But to paraphrase an old expression,   it’s human garbage in,  human garbage out.   Humans still have minds of their own,   although data may reveal what’s likely on those minds. 
No doubt  powerful computers,  ubiquitous sensors, and the Web will influence those minds.    Maybe big data will personalize, make more productive, and empower our lives,  but based on what I ‘ve seen so far in health care,  I’m dubious megadata will  necessarily enhance the quality of care.
Or take politics.   We have had more data-driven polls than anyone can count.     But because of such factors  last-minute mind changes,  surges or falls in turnout,  personality quirks of candidates,  and late breaking  gossip or  scandal,  results are beyond the reach of data.  Hillary Clinton is said to be inevitable ( Howard Kurtz, “ Clinton Is Inevitable Once Again,” Fox News,  February 23).    But is she inevitable?  The outcome of the FBI investigation  is not in, and there are emails  and primaries yet to come.  
Donald Trump says he is inevitable.  But Lou Cannon, who wrote a biography Ronald Reagan is doubtful ( “Why Trump  Isn’t Inevitable,”  Real Clear Politics,  February 23).    Cannon notes that Reagan lost 6 primaries before winning one,  that Trump only has ,9 delegates of the 1237 required for the nomination,   that his popularity is stuck in the mid-thirties,  that 28% of Republicans say they would never vote for him,  and that primaries with favorite sons (Cruz in Texas, Rubio in Florida, and Kasich in Ohio) have yet to be held.
It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings, but in about a month, following the big second winner take-all primaries,  she  is likely to yodel a victory song
Big Data doesn’t make it all inevitable.
Results will always be questionable.
Don’t bet on the final winning horses,
Because not everything is measurable.


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