Chapter 3. Arguments

Data consists of observations about the world—records in a database, notes in a logbook, images on a hard drive. There is nothing magical about them. These observations may prove useful or useless, accurate or inaccurate, helpful or unhelpful. At the outset, they are only observations. Observations alone are not enough to act on. When we connect observations to how the world works, we have the opportunity to make knowledge. Arguments are what make knowledge out of observations.

There are many kinds of knowledge. Sometimes we have an accurate, unimpeachable mental model of how something works. Other times we have an understanding that is just good enough. And other times still, the knowledge is not in a person at all, but in an algorithm quietly puzzling out how the world fits together. What concerns us in working with data is how to get as good a connection as possible between the observations we collect and the processes that shape our world.

Knowing how arguments work gives us special powers. If we understand how to make convincing arguments, we can put tools and techniques into their proper place as parts of a whole. Without a good understanding of arguments, we make them anyway (we cannot help ourselves, working with data), but they are more likely to be small and disconnected.

By being aware of how arguments hang together, we can better:

  • Get across complicated ideas
  • Build a project in stages
  • Get inspiration from well-known patterns of argument
  • Substitute ...

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