Big Data – Part One

A current catchphrase among policymakers, business leaders and economists is the term “big data.” It refers to data both large and small which has an impact on society. Mostly, the term is used to describe data produced by private corporations like Google, Microsoft and Facebook, that track consumer buying trends.

But, big data is most certainly compiled by our national government on a regular basis by the U.S. Census Bureau as part of its $900 million annual budget. It is important information including data tracking the unemployment rate, housing statistics, the gross domestic product (GDP) and the nation’s poverty rate.

Data can affect policy. Doubtless, yearly data from the bureau showing that more than 1 in 8 Americans lacked health insurance led to current reforms. Having access to data has now become a Washington political football. As a recent New York Times editorial notes, “in an age when knowledge is power, restricting knowledge is a power grab.”

Tea Party member U.S. Representative Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) recently introduced legislation which would eliminate all surveys taken by the Census Bureau except the constitutionally-mandated decennial census.

After all, as Jon Stewart exclaimed while commenting on the Duncan bill, “the gathering of data is a liberal conspiracy!”