Time for big anthropology

“Big data” is one of the most promising developments in health care in a decade. Yet, writes Dan Beckham, they too often breed myopic overconfidence.

“The numbers, after all, never lie — except when they do. Numbers without context or interpretation can create a dangerous distance between key decision-makers and reality.”

Beckham argues that big investments in the quantification of big data may result in an underinvestment in much-needed qualitative inputs (the kind you get from careful and intentional observation of human behavior).

“An investment solely in big data is going to yield just that — a big amount of data. Without interpretation at the human level to add value, meaning and relevancy, data can never make the transformation into usable information.”

The answer according to Beckham is in the intersection of the qualitative and the quantitative: “We need the qualitative perspectives of “big anthropology” to balance the quantitative insights of big data.”