The pitfalls of big data
As you may know, I love a good way of tying sports into examples and in this case, Steve Hirdt examines how sports can be related to big data. Makes for an interesting way to explore the pitfalls of big data and about remembering that all data can really give us is a best guess scenario, we have to use our brains to get all the surrounding facts from there.
When college officials talk about using “Big Data” to improve higher education—the focus of a SUNY conference here this week—they often draw an analogy to Moneyball. The movie recounts how Billy Beane, the Oakland A’s general manager, revived his ailing baseball team by analyzing data in new ways.
So what might sports teach higher education about data mining? In academe the stakes are higher than in baseball, but progress toward making good use of data has been uneven. Nonetheless, colleges are busy mining students’ data trails to build software that does things like suggest what mathematics problems they should work on or even what classes they should take.
During a panel on Wednesday about the “cautionary side” of Big Data, colleges got some insight from Steve Hirdt, a 45-year sports-data veteran who is executive vice president at the Elias Sports Bureau, the official statistician to the major North American professional sports leagues. Elias records game statistics—hits in baseball, yards gained in football, points scored in basketball, etc.—and supplies data to teams and news-media clients. When you watch Monday Night Football, Mr. Hirdt is the guy off camera feeding the announcer facts like “Seattle 135 yards: fewest for a winning team in the NFL in the last three years.”
Mr. Hirdt drew on his football and baseball data experience to give colleges two main warnings:
First off, what you initially find in a given data set may turn out to be flat-out wrong upon closer scrutiny. In professional football, for example, a lot of early analysis looked at the role of running, Mr. Hirdt explained in an interview with The Chronicle. The statistics sheets of winning teams would show that they had run the ball, say, 40 times, and passed it 25 times. Aha! Running is the key! “That simple principle—you have to run to win—was so ingrained in a generation of football coaches based on an early look at the data,” Mr. Hirdt said.
Read the full article at the link below.
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