Master Data Management

Martin Veitch (Global) - You want Curly Fries with that Story? Thoughts on Bad Data and Dumb Viral 'News'

It was hard to avoid curly fries this morning even if you have no interest in reconstituted potato snacks. Google News clocked up 1350 stories based on that precise search term after a study of Facebook users suggested a correlation between high intelligence and a taste for the foodstuff.

Anyone, except those with curly fries where their brain is, should know that this is nonsense. The sad thing is that it’s also indicative of an endemic trend that sees a complaisant media play along with simplistic research findings to create a narrative meme. The story is actually broader and more interesting, but it’s faster to jump to the silly stuff.

Take this (no, please take it) from the Daily Telegraph’s website under the headline ‘Like curly fries on Facebook? Then you’re clever’. (Talk about reductio ad absurdum.)

Michal Kosinski, [Cambridge’s Psychometric Centre] operations director, said ‘liking’ curly fries was a very strong predictor for high intelligence.

“I have very little idea why,” he said, although he suggested that some clever people might say they liked quirky things to express their own novelty.

It’s hard to know where to begin, and it’s almost certainly not worth doing so, for this is 'news' as re-imagined by The Onion.

Which brings me to another beef: the tendency to use data-driven research without engaging the brain. Lulled by the Moneyball book/movie and stories of how Target identified pregnant women by their shopping habits, Big Data and suchlike, some see patterns in the carpet where they just don’t exist. But as DJ Patil of venture capital firm Greylock Partners emphasises in The Wall Street Journal today, the world is so full of variables that it’s exceptionally hard to say with confidence which trends are genuine and which are rogue.

"There's no precursor signal. We don't often have data signals for finding the next type of major founder. Even finding a signal for who is going to be an amazing quarterback 15 or 20 years in the future is tough."

Amen to that… and good riddance to bad rubbish masquerading as science.


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


« Matt Pierce (Global) - BYOD Training: Content vs. Consumption


Clement Goh (Asia) - Singapore Swings Ahead in 2013 Trends »
Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

  • twt
  • twt
  • Mail


Do you think your smartphone is making you a workaholic?