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Forget Big Data—Here Comes Long Data: Sam Arbesman in <em>Wired </em>
Big Data | January 29, 2013

Forget Big Data—Here Comes Long Data: Sam Arbesman in Wired

"No matter how big that data is or what insights we glean from it, it is still just a snapshot: a moment in time," science speaker Samuel Arbesman writes in Wired. "That’s why I think we need to stop getting stuck only on big data and start thinking about long data." As he argues in the article, the human race has evolved drastically over long periods of time. Because of this, we need to analyze data sets that have historical sweep instead of focusing solely on the short snippet of time that big data presents us.

Long data is an effective tool even when dealing with current or future phenomenon. Many of the events we are analyzing today or predicting for the future have been influenced by decades or centuries of slow-building changes. If we don't look at these events from a historical standpoint, Arbesman says we have the potential to fall prey to the shifting baseline syndrome. When this happens, we regard events happening in our current decade to be the norm and are often blinded to what has happened in generations past. This is why it is important to add long data to our toolkit—because it gives us context. As Arbesman writes: "Big data may tell us what we need to know for hype cycles today. But long data can reach into our past…and help us lay a path to our future."

As well as being a regular contributor to Wired, Arbesman is also the author of the critically hailed book The Half-Life Of Facts. In the book, as well as in his speeches, he encourages us to accept the fact that many of the things that we know to be empirically true are likely to change. Never fear, however, because the overturning of facts allows us to gain a more accurate understanding of the world. He challenges us to never accept things at face value and says our education is never definitive. By constantly questioning how knowledge evolves we will be better able to cope with the rapid changes taking place all around us.

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