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points | 10.27.16

Shining a light on the darkness

Mark Van Hollebeke

D&S practitioner-in-residence Mark Van Hollebeke discusses Weapons of Math Destruction in this Points piece.

O’Neil’s analysis doesn’t just apply to mathematical models; it applies to societal models. Most of the WMDs that Cathy O’Neil describes are inextricably linked to unjust social structures.

We all, data scientists included, need to act with some humility and reflect on the nature of our social ills. As O’Neil writes, “Sometimes the job of a data scientists is to know when you don’t know enough” (216). Those familiar with Greek moral philosophy know that this type of Socratic wisdom can be very fruitful.

It’s not just the dark side of Big Data she shows us, but shady business practices and unjust social regimes. We will never disarm the WMDs without addressing the social injustice they mask and perpetuate. O’Neil deserves credit for shining a bright light on this fact.

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