How Data Happened: A History from the Age of Reason to the Age of Algorithms

Highbridge Audio. Mar. 2023. 10:27 hrs. ISBN 9781696611015. $24.99. TECH
Wiggins, a professor of applied mathematics at Columbia University and chief data scientist at the New York Times, and Jones (Reckoning with Matter), a Guggenheim fellow and history professor at Columbia, take listeners through the history of data, beginning with the origin of statistics as a separate discipline and its widespread acceptance as the backbone of the scientific method. Narrator Eric Jason Martin carefully presents the authors’ arguments that data and statistics have played a pivotal role in history, from legitimizing racism during the eugenics movement to assisting the U.S. government in raising armies and levying taxes, based on information gathered during the national census. Today, data, statistics, and algorithms wield enormous power and are used by social media and corporations to attract customers, track customer spending, and predict future behaviors and outcomes. Martin narrates this book, written for laypeople, with the clarity needed to cut through a complex topic.
VERDICT Wiggins and Jones’s analysis of how data has been gathered, interpreted, and disseminated over the past century raises many questions about how data will be used in future endeavors. A thought-provoking and well-researched discussion that should appeal to fans of Sinan Aral’s The Hype Machine.
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