The single version of the truth

I almost wee my pants every time someone talks about “single version of truth” in data.

Data and everything that derives from it is subjective, just as is our world which is based on cognitive biases. Just find the version of the truth you like in the most optimal way and run with it.

By now, most people would agree that the single version of the truth is a utopia, however they would react strongly to the statement “find your version of the truth and run with it”. The strong reaction will be triggered by the natural relation between manipulation of facts to create a reality.

This reaction is logical and predictable, especially in people who are not on a CxO level and up or people who have consciously chosen jobs at big PR agencies.

The abovementioned CxOs and PR folk know very well the following:

• there is no way you are going to beat your competitors by having only a fair competitive advantage.

• statistics are used nowadays to create realities (if you torture data long enough, it will confess).

• the human-behaviour-as-a-service is a driving factor in any economy nowadays.

In reality, the executives and PR folk act daily as puppets, pulled by the forces of these rules. Their job is best done when realities are created for people and when ideas are channelled in those realities in a palatable way.

Of course, the rest of the people, even if they are made aware of the puppeteer ropes, they would still insist that decision-making needs to be fact-based to be functional and correct.

But in reality, every person working with data analysis in some way will agree that they are fully capable of bending any data into any shape they want and later on they can prove that what they did was correct. And they can also prove that it wasn’t correct, if they wanted to.

Everyone is aware that data bending is spot on a big problem in the data community right now, and everyone secretly hopes that the data workers would act responsibly.

But the puppet ropes are stronger than pure responsible behaviour.

Here are a few examples: Brexit (I am not arguing it is good nor bad) was a result of skewed statistics, Trump (I am not arguing it is good nor bad) was a result of skewed statistics, most wars nowadays are results of skewed statistics.

Yes, we can all hope that the data workers would have great morals and pure intentions but, in the end, it is not up to them. Give million bucks to a PR agency and they will run a garlic campaign to the skies. And the public will love that garlic chewing gum and will ask for more. Individuals would hate it, but the masses will love it.

Yes, we agree that some ethics in the CxO and PR world would be a nice contribution to society.

But here is the question: what would be the driver for it? Or, let me rephrase: when, how and what would make ethics in data profitable?

Written on November 10, 2018