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Look before you leap into ‘big data’

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As regular readers of this column know, I love data. I love it when there's lots of it. And I love it when there are several sources of it. I find it very useful. But this week I had the opportunity to listen to a master of understanding data, Edward Tufte. He had some criticisms of big data that I think are well worth considering -- especially as the buzz around big data reaches fever pitch. I'll do what I can to present some of his thoughts, though almost certainly with less elegance. Big data, so what?First up, the bigness of data isn't that impressive really. According to Tufte, what he calls "real scientists" have been using large amounts of data for many years now. They need to in order to do things like map DNA or count the number of stars out there or work with advanced particle physics. Business leaders and policymakers are only just now getting into the big data game by way of marketing and hardware advancements (and the people who need to sell hardware ...