Big data, big hype?
Wired - 04/25/2014
First there was “Big Data,” and then there was “Big Data Analytics.” These terms are everywhere, but there has been a recent media backlash about the effectiveness of Big Data. Tim Harford summed this up in a recent Financial Times article by saying “Big Data has arrived, but big insights have not.”
Big Data is not to blame — the truth is, Big Data is just a lot of data. Bad analysis is bad analysis, and there are many examples where good analysis combined with large volumes of information have been used to gain good insight.
The majority of the media backlash comes from an article in the journal Science in which researchers from Harvard University and Northeastern University pointed to the failure of Google Flu Trends (GFT). Driven by Big Data and Google’s algorithms, GFT was launched in 2008 as a way to track the annual spread of influenza across the US. This task had traditionally taken the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) weeks to compile based on reports from doctors, but GFT was able to do it in days by tracking terms that people search online.
GFT was introduced with much interest and attention in the scientific community and became symbolic of the power of an emerging new trend – Big Data. When it was unveiled through a paper in the journal Nature, GFT had a correlation of 90% with CDC data, and such an achievement without any scientific study had scientists rethinking how they conduct research and what they might be able to learn from Google.