Chapter 7. Data Literacy

“To invent out of knowledge means to produce inventions that are true. Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector operating inside him. It also should have a manual drill and a crank handle in case the machine breaks down. If you’re going to write, you have to find out what’s bad for you. Part of that you learn fast, and then you learn what’s good for you.”

Ernest Hemingway[76]

Our concept of literacy changes every time there’s a major shift in information technology. Being literate used to mean knowing how to sign your name. At one point it meant the ability to read and write Latin. Today, being literate generally means being able to read and understand a newspaper in your own language.

There has always been some group of people with a closer link to the truth than the rest of society. At one point in our history, some of our ancestors had the capacity for language, and some didn’t. When writing was developed, we had scribes. When the printing press was developed, the author, printer, and publisher became the new gatekeepers. After we taught everyone to read a newspaper, the journalists became the class closest to truth.

Now the problem is not a widespread inability to read and write, but the vast sea of textual, audio, and video data that we wade in every day. A new skill is necessary—one that helps filter and sort through this information.

Remember the trophic pyramid? It turns out that as energy makes its way up the food chain, its transfer ...

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