Everyone's an Expert
How many times has it happened to you? You get a strange twinge in the neck, a rash, or an unusually persistent headache. You try the ibuprofen, and maybe the tablets that you had left over from last time you had some unexplained pain, but nothing shifts it.
Suddenly, what was a mild annoyance becomes something more. We refer to our most trusted of practitioners - Google - and put in our symptoms. Before you know it, our exact symptoms come up. But it's not good news. Wouldn't you know it, I've got a rare form of Polio (I'm kind of aware that Polio isn't an issue in the UK anymore, but maybe I am unlucky). I double check, but to my horror, the addition of a rash means it’s probably fatal, and I'll be dead within the week. Tearfully I bid farewell to my wife and go to see the local GP for confirmation.
It’s a long wait in the waiting room. I try not to get too close to anyone in case I am contagious. I wonder whether they ever put a GP practice into lockdown, and how long it will take the governmental epidemiologists to get here. I wonder if I should warn the receptionist and stop anyone else visiting the surgery.
And then my name is called, and I stagger forlornly into the doctors office.
"What seems to be the problem?" she asks.
Not wanting to upset her, I don't mention Google. To stop her panicking (a screaming doctor does nothing for patient morale) I recount my symptoms one by one. I can feel the terror rise as I finish and wait for my worst fears to be confirmed. The moments tick by, but the doctor says nothing. Perhaps she has realised the truth and she is too frightened to speak. To confirm my suspicions, she starts tapping away at her keyboard - presumably emailing her colleagues that there is a very real crisis. Finally, she turns to me and utters the dreaded words
"There's not much I can do for you"
Well that's it then. I'll never get to finish the second series of the Handmaid's Tale. Why didn't I go on that holiday to Shanghai last year instead of to Butlin's? What use is saving money now? Is my life insurance up to date? What happens with my pension (if it’s worth anything at all).
"I'm afraid...you've been out in the sun a little too long. I suggest you drink plenty of fluids and take some paracetamol. There's no point in me giving you a prescription".
I stagger into the glorious sunlight and realise how silly I've been. I don't understand how I could make such an error. I did a GCE O'level in Human Biology, surely that's sufficient to be able to diagnose something simple like this - and I had the wealth of knowledge of Google behind me......
And then a revelation.... we have GPs, clinicians, nurses and others because they are specialists in their field. They have undergone years of training to think and act in a certain way. No matter how much I look over the notes I scrawled at 15, I will never be able to think like someone who has been appropriately trained. Google cannot give me knowledge or wisdom, it just provides a plethora of information.
So, okay, this example is a little extreme, but it demonstrates the importance of experience and training. We wouldn't attempt our own surgery, we self-medicate only with those things that are safe (non-prescription medication), and we generally appreciate the role that medical staff play.
Why then is it different with data? We are in a culture where everyone is demanding their own data. We pull out what interests us and make an analytical diagnosis. Sometimes the implications of what we have discovered have major impact - maybe financially, maybe on how we deliver patient care, maybe on how staff are restructured etc. Everyone's an expert with data, because we all did maths at school, and we've always got Google to refer to. What could possibly go wrong?
So here’s a revelation....we have analysts, data scientists, mathematicians, statisticians and others because they are specialists in their field. They have undergone years of training to think and act in a certain way. No matter how much you look over the notes you scrawled at 15, you will never be able to think like someone who has been appropriately trained. Google cannot give you knowledge or wisdom, it just provides a plethora of information.
There is a saying that I'm sure we all know:
Data isn't information
Information isn't knowledge
Knowledge isn't wisdom
(Frank Zappa expanded this to say that wisdom wasn't love - possibly a topic for a different blog)
It's time that we leave the analysis of data, and the drawing of appropriate conclusions, to those who have had the appropriate training. Failure to do so at best wastes our time and at worst leads to the wrong decisions being made. But if you are an analyst, a statistician , a data scientist , or someone entrusted to interpret data it is important that your training is up to date. Take a look at my courses and ensure that you are the one that can be relied on for the correct data diagnosis!