Hype and fear as integral components of policy debate

Posted on June 3, 2015  /  0 Comments

I was recently asked to justify my claim that the big data debate should not be reduced to a “competition of imaginations” between hype and pessimism.

The future is unknowable, so we have little alternative but to use our imaginations to discuss the future. We can extrapolate from what is known which is better than pure scenarios, but even this is not perfect. What happened yesterday need not happen tomorrow and what happened in one country under specfic conditions may not be replicated in other circumstances.inning But that is still better than scenario spinning.

The debate over government surveillance of telecom metadata illustrates.

As the debate over the bulk phone records program unfolded, supporters and opponents both trotted out worst case scenarios to make their argument. Opponents warned that the government could root through the records to learn who was calling psychiatrists and political groups, while supporters said ending it would lead to terrorist attacks on the United States.

Neither of those warnings was supported by how the program had performed in its nearly 14 years of existence. Repeated studies found no evidence of intentional abuse for personal or political gain, but also found no evidence that it had ever thwarted a terrorist attack.

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