You can collect lots of Moneyball-type data but it still has to be used well

Another report from the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference provides this useful reminder about statistics and big data:

Politics didn’t come up at the conference, except for a single question to Nate Silver, the FiveThirtyEight election oracle who got his start doing statistical analysis on baseball players. Silver suggested there wasn’t much comparison between the two worlds.

But even if there’s no direct correlation, there was an underlying message I heard consistently throughout the conference that applies to both: Data is an incredibly valuable resource for organizations, but you must be able to communicate its value to stakeholders making decisions — whether that’s in the pursuit of athletes or voters.

And the Obama 2012 campaign successfully put this together. Here is one example:

Data played a major role. There’s perhaps no better example than the constant testing of email subject lines. The performance of the Obama email with the subject line “I will be outspent” earned the campaign an estimated $2.6 million. Had the campaign gone with the lowest-performing subject line, it would have raised $2.2 million less, according to “Inside the Cave,” a detailed report from Republican strategist Patrick Ruffini and the team at Engage.

This is an important reminder about statistics: they still have to be used well and effectively shared with leaders and the public. We are now in a world where more data is available than ever before but this doesn’t necessarily mean life is getting better.

I recently was in a conversation about the value of statistics. I suggested that if colleges and others were able to effectively train the students of today in statistics and how to use them in the real world, we might be better off as a society in a few decades as these students go on to become leaders who can make statistics a regular part of their decision-making. We’ll see if this happens…

One thought on “You can collect lots of Moneyball-type data but it still has to be used well

  1. Pingback: When the candidate with the big data advantage didn’t win the presidency | Legally Sociable

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