Dataclysm

Although I’ve been married for over 20 years, I’ve had an OKCupid profile for the last 10…and so has my husband. Not for finding dates, but because OKCupid used to host fun personality tests that my friends would send to me and I’d send to him. Every few years one of us will remember that we have a profile and check in, even though our profiles are very scanty except for the tests. When we check in, OKC will suggest good matches in our area, and fortunately we’ve always been in each other’s “quiver.”

Or maybe not so fortunately. More like “mathily” if that was a word. And if that was a word I’d be applying it to Christian Rudder’s new book, Dataclysm, as in “mathily awesome” or “mathily funny” or “mathily insightful.”

Rudder is one of the founders of OKCupid, which turns out to be a Big Data site masquerading as a dating site. A data-ing site. He’s written the ever-amusing and informative OKTrends blog for years, and Dataclysm is that blog times 100. While I hate doing math and statistics, I love math theory and information visualizations and sociology, and Dataclysm is at the Venn diagram center of all of those.

If you’re human and live in society, there’s something in here that will help explain things. I could have pretty much already told you that Belle and Sebastian is the least black band, or that heavy Twitter posters masturbate more than the average person (because what is Twitter but digital masturbation? Also, you can follow me @RaqWinchester). But while I suspected discrepancy in the hiring criteria for men vs. women, it was shocking to see it in black and white (and red). Also in black and white is the clear story of race in America. Without the data analysis, things like the Republican party response to Obama’s election and Ferguson, Missouri seem bewildering. With the information sifted from the mass data, they seem inevitable.

The Intelligence Community will find a lot of value here as well. It’s not surprising that the IC has been working to find ways to see the next Arab Spring or ISIS coming. As Rudder says, this technology can move beyond spying and into actually doing some good. With this book he makes an excellent case that we now have enough (so much!) data and enough understanding of how to query it that we can actually gain an understanding of each other and start helping each other. Dataclysm will highlight for data scientists just what the possibilities are.

And I really wish the tagline for OKCupid was “Making the Ineffable Totally Effable.”

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