Big Data

Bethan Turner turns to J.K. Rowling to reflect on the first MRS Data Analytics Conference.

I recently attended the first ever MRS Data Analytics Conference, and wasn’t sure what to expect. The conference itself was interesting, informative, and sparked lots of healthy debate which was great.

However, I was shocked to see that very early on, the words “big data” were met with some eye rolls from the audience. Eye rolls turned into shaking heads, and before you knew it the occasional tut was thrown in. By the time we came to the afternoon sessions, one speaker even joked that he wouldn’t mention *whisper* “big data” because he knew the sort of reaction it would get. Big data had turned into a swear word. Something you couldn’t talk about. Something you didn’t dare talk about. Big data was Voldemort.

Enter Dumbledore…

“Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.”

We all know Dumbledore is one of the wisest. And, in this instance in particular, I couldn’t agree more. I was annoyed – no – angry at us for behaving in this way. If we weren’t able to talk about big data and the challenges it brings our (and every other) industry, who would be able to? Big data has become jargon that has been thrown around to intimidate and scare companies. Yes, big data can be scary. It can be unruly, unwieldy, and unforgiving.

But it can be tamed. It can be explored and analysed to give us useful insights. It can be cleaned, and broken down into bitesize chunks. It is not something we should be scared of. It is something that we, the analytically-minded, analytically-curious, analytically-skilled members of the research community should be exploring and embracing. We need to be showing the rest of the world that big data isn’t something to be afraid of.

Again, to quote the old guy with the long beard…

“We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”