There is No Perfect Information

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I read a very interesting (and lengthy) article yesterday from Reuter’s (you can find the whole thing here) in which the author goes into some detail about people in the government that are self-described “data dogs”. I find it an interesting study in general, since I also value data as well – but the article finally seems to land on a topic that I thought had been put to bed.

Several of the folks in the article seem to be under the belief that if we just had a little more data, we’d be able to predict the future with it, at least on an economic front. I don’t agree. Sure, more data is usually a good thing – but there is a limit. It’s different for each situation, but sometimes more data isn’t any better than a little data, especially when you can’t process it all anyway.

My science background teaches me that there is no such thing as “perfect” information about any system – it’s a myth. So I was surprised at finding very intelligent people chasing after “perfect” data – I just don’t think we’ll ever have. On the other hand, I could be reading too much into their statements. Perhaps they are just looking for that “good enough” level of data.

What do you think?

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  • Amen, Brother Woody!  The more we know (and the more we specialize in particular areas of that knowledge), the more inclined we are to forget our subjective nature.  Then we build on this misperception by believing that if we take more and more measurements or gather more types of data, we will finally be able to perfectly model "reality."  As Alfred Korzybski said "..the map is not the territory.."

  • I come from a science background as well and I completely agree that perfect data doesn't exist.  I still try to get as close to achieving perfect data as possible, but I realize that it is impossible so I don't waste tons of time on it.

  • You're completely right Buck. I think also that when you gather data, you usually begin with the 'best' - most accurate, relevant, up-to-date. But the more data you get, the bigger chance is you'll get rubish along. In the end it will disturb the solution.

    I also noticed that gathering information often changes it - a Heisenberg principle at informational level. People tend to 'fix' the information if they know it is collected.

  • Financial companies, specifically those with quantitative analysis teams, actually believe they already have the perfect data. In fact, when times are good and a team is making 20% on their money year after year, they can make others believe they have perfect data as well. The truth is that it doesn't exist, and that they were often just lucky, or fudged their numbers.

    Just look at the weather. With all the data they have collected since the late 19th century you would think they could forecast the weather with a little more accuracy, right? I mean, how hard can that be?

    Now extrapolate to something else, something that doesn't have a human element associated with it. The weather is up to Mother Nature, and we can't predict that, how to you expect to predict anything that relies on human involvement? You can't.

  • Buck,

    Thank you for sharing that article.  It is very interesting to see that people so high in our government are starting to look at answering all of these other questions. It seems to me that they are just looking for a way to answer the additional questions and hoping it better reflects what is happening in the real world. A while back I saw something similar on TED where there are countries advocating the use of a "Gross National Happiness." It sounds like the US is jumping on the bandwagon.

    www.ted.com/.../chip_conley_measuring_what_makes_life_worthwhile.html

    -Jeremy

  • I love it when myths become a reality:

    www.youtube.com/watch

    www.youtube.com/watch

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