To anybody who’s paying attention, there’s no question that big data has gone mainstream. Every week sees the publication of countless articles and blog posts making claims (some inflated, some not) about the power of big data and its ability to help solve any number of intractable problems facing humanity.

That said, it’s also clear that the skeptics are starting to voice their concerns in greater numbers. Is it a backlash? It’s probably too early to tell, but here are some excellent articles we read this week on the subject that remind us that we need to put some of the hype about big data in perspective.

The Economist uses the term in an article widely circulated on social media this week. The Backlash Against Big Data offers colorful quotes from some credible big data detractors in academia and elsewhere and points out the dangers of inherent data biases and the resulting “spurious correlations”.

More skepticism from David Lazer in the MIT Technology Review, who warns in his article, Mistaken Analysis, that sometimes it’s too easy to be led astray by the lure of big data. Cautioning against “big-data hubris”, he cites the failure of Google Flu to accurately predict flu outbreaks as a prime example of why we need to cut through the big data hype. He calls for more openness around data and methods and identifies the need for multidisciplinary teams around big-data tools.

The New Yorker also weighed in on this theme with a lengthy article on big data in health care that covers the aftermath of the government’s release of an immense data set showing 2012 Medicare billings by 880,000 doctors and other medical providers in the US.

But it’s not all doom and gloom

But the good news is it’s not all skepticism and doubt out there in the world of big data, nor all doom and gloom for that matter!

Here are some articles on the subject that we enjoyed this week, where we learn how big data is being put to good use in lots of places, including in the fight against fraud and in helping cities provide better services for their residents:


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