27 June 2019, Dublin: We’re in the middle of a ‘data revolution’: large, detailed datasets and complex algorithms allow us to make predictions on anything from football results to who is likely to commit a crime. But how equipped are we to question the quality of data analysis here, and the weight it can bear?

As members of the public, journalists, politicians or decision makers – our discussions about quality must expand to include data claims. Sense about Science has created a guide to starting more of those conversations, including asking three fundamental questions:

  1. Where does it come from?
  2. What is being assumed?
  3. Can it bear the weight being put on it?

The guide is being launched by Sense about Science, in partnership with the International Network for Government Science Advice and Elsevier at the INGSA 2019 international meeting at Trinity College Dublin.

The guide can be downloaded from Thursday 27th June 2019 by visiting: http://askforevidence.org/articles/data-science-a-guide-for-society 

Tracey Brown, Director of Sense about Science, OBE:

“Governments across Europe are anxious about how to engage the public more in evidence and reliable information. Well, they are spending billions of euros on big data strategies that will revolutionise everything from transport and farming to healthcare and banking, and yet with little thought to whether people are equipped to ask the fundamental questions about which models and claims are most reliable. Here is a real opportunity to equip citizens to be critically engaged in the evidence and decisions shaping their lives.“

Peter Gluckman, Chair of INGSA:

“Big data is playing an increasingly important role in decision-making in both the public and private sector. But ‘data’ and ‘information’ are not synonymous, for data must be interpreted: allowing for many opportunities for biases and error to be incorporated. The appropriate use of big data will require both the generators and users of big data to understand not only its potential but also its limitations.

INGSA is delighted to have assisted in the development of this guide; which marks the start of a much-needed conversation about the capabilities and quality of data science.”

Professor Mark Ferguson, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government of Ireland and Director General Science Foundation Ireland:

“We are living in a digital age and data permeates all aspects of our society and economy.  We all use data to make decisions – in some cases these can be simple whilst others are very complex. These include: the impact of climate change, developing new drugs and treatments, managing health and education, developing appropriate social policies, etc. In this complex environment, it is good for everyone to consider the origin, quality and limitations of the data and the analyses applied to such data. This brief guide aims to help the public understand the key issues so that they can interrogate, question and understand any data or data analysis.”

Dr Brad Fenwick, SVP Global Strategic Alliances at Elsevier:

“No one should be left behind in the data revolution, certainly not the decision-makers who need to be able to navigate the outputs of big data analytics when used as evidence. In our decade long partnership with Sense about Science, we have seen them focus on research issues addressing pressing societal needs and 'Data Science: a guide for society' is their latest fundamentally helpful contribution to the public debate on the value and use of sound science.” 

Dr Yuko Harayama, Professor Emeritus at Tohoku University (and Former Executive Member of the Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, Cabinet Office)

"Governments around the world are embracing data innovation as a means of social transformation. Citizens need, therefore, not just to be educated in how to use new data technologies but also how to interrogate them and ask meaningful questions of their findings. This will ensure we have democratic discussions about what is reliable, acceptable and desirable in this data world."