Information V Data – Meh

14 May

The other day I was reading a post on the Word Stumpet about when “Good is good enough” for you? This is actually a fascinating question, and there is an entire science devoted to it, although they are usually approaching it from another direction, such as its monetary value. This reminded me of a couple of saying I will throw in at this point because I cannot see a more appropriate location and I really want to include them.

“The perfect is the enemy of the good” (Voltaire)

“Better sooner is good enough.” This was a slogan of the Soviet Union in their military production, and we all know how well that ended.

And one I may have originated: “If you don’t have time to do it right the first time, what makes you think you have time to do it over?” (I’m going to totally take credit until and earlier reference than circa 1989 when I said it to a secretary comes forth.)

This is a soapbox lecture I give intermittently and spontaneously – and I really should have written this down a long time ago. Since I have not previously organized this, I expect it will meander like a conversation where I extrapolate on an idea and well beyond too. To begin will, a definition. The difference between data and information. This light bulb moment came from James Burke. Watching his series of “Connections 1 – 3” and “The day the Universe Changed” will entrance most nerds. About 25 years ago, while I was at the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, and residing in the people republic of Davis, I attended a lecture sponsored by the local PBS station featuring – wait for it – you’ll never guess, James Burke. As I recall, the talk was about how the information age was going to change work. As an example of data, he said “If I told you that the person next to you, who is coughing, is sick that is just data-because it doesn’t change your behavior. If I told you that person had a highly communicable deadly disease, that would be information because it would dramatically affect your behavior.” What struck me about that analogy was that it nicely summed up the kind of work I do. I take data and change it into information. That information is provided to the clinician and should change their behavior in how they manage their patient’s treatment.

What factors determine the value of information? Information needs to be timely, and needs to be accurate, it needs to be clear and concise and easily comprehended. There may be some other factors, and if and when I think of them I will modify the post to include them. My usual example of the information source is the Wall Street Journal. An 100% accurate data that is old is not particularly informative. The value of knowing 100% accurate stock market results of 20 years ago is not particularly helpful. Data that would help you get the value of a stock or the direction of the market tomorrow that is 100% accurate is highly valuable. The presentation of the data is also important. One of the items that has been sorely lacking in medical reports is the graphic display that are common in many other forms, particularly PowerPoint, which did not exist at the time of the initial lecture. Many a time I will present data as a list of numbers and dates. This is not nearly as informative as a graphic presentation would be. Medical reports typically are alphanumeric text. When presenting imaging data, ideally a hyperlink between the report and the image would be preferable. Although this concept, presented by me approximately 15+ years ago, the method that is currently in use for most medical imaging still does not incorporate this approach and only now are medical records beginning to take advantage of technology present on the Internet for over a decade. The integrated electronic medical record is moving towards connecting data, but not too hyper-linking specific report information.

The value of the information depends on the individual weighting of each value. If timeliness is extremely critical, then a mostly accurate and understandable report is more valuable than any perfectly grammatical and 100% accurate report later. A graphic display of the data is clearer and more understandable than a listing of dates and data points. In the example that Charlotte used with her editor, accuracy and clarity are of a significantly greater value than timeliness, therefore the effort to correct and perfect the document would take precedence over getting it in sooner. For a blog, where the timeliness and clarity of the issue are more important, the grammatical accuracy and typographical errors, unless really gross, do not significantly removed from the value. (I keep telling myself this.) A blog unlike a newspaper or magazine article, can be updated and corrected in real-time.

A mathematical formula expressing this may look something like this:

V = Fn(nA, mT, oC)

Where V is equal to the value of the information.

Fn() Is a function that determines the value.

A Is the accuracy and n is the weight value.
T Is the timeliness and m is its weighting value.

C is the clarity and O is its weighting value.

The classic example of this is a graft showing Napoleon’s Russian campaign of 1812. In a visual form it clearly and easily demonstrates the horrendous losses. Imagine trying to understand this if it was listed out as a table of numbers, or worse, listed out as dates and numbers in paragraph form.

Click to enlarged.

Note: If you know of a source with a higher resolution of above graph, please leave a comment. I am disappointing in the clarity of the writing. Also I would like add links to where it could be purchased and how to analysis and present statistical information.


2 Responses to “Information V Data – Meh”

  1. Michael February 17, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Hi there, I found a better map over here http://www.isotope221.com/tumblr/Minard/Minard.jpg
    You probably don’t need it anymore.

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