Economic Theory Versus Big Data


In "Collective Awareness" J. Doyne Farmer relates highlights from his inspirational career as a data gatherer, simulator, and forecaster. There are several nice take-aways from his account. It’s informative and fun to have quantitative estimates put on the value of improvement in weather forecasting over the past half-century. And I’m happy for readers to hear the truth that innovative thinking about economics finds more encouragement here in supposedly sclerotic Europe than it currently does in America.

Every scientist should love new data and love new ways of gathering new kinds of data even more. The so-called “big” data generated by and from the Internet that Farmer celebrates is of unquestioned value to scientists and policy makers, and in future will yield streams of benefits no one has yet thought of.

I want to raise a caution flag, however, about three questionable ideas that Farmer’s discussion promotes. One is about the nature of inference: that large quantities of directly observed data are generally more informative than smaller sets of deliberately cultivated data. The second is philosophical: that the best way to understand a complicated system is always, or even usually, to focus on details about its individual components. The third, and the one that exercises my greatest concern here, is that some of the worst current features of our political and social life can partly be blamed on an old-fashioned way of doing economics that should be replaced. I think that displacement of economic theory by simulations based on crunching big data would invite disaster for human welfare.

DON ROSS is professor and head of the School of Sociology, Philosophy, Criminology, Government, and Politics at University College Cork in Ireland; professor of economics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa; and program director for Methodology at the Center for Economic Analysis of Risk at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University, Atlanta. Don Ross's Edge Bio Page

Schirrmacher's Heritage


A book of essays claims the authority to interpret, carries the militant title "Reclaim Autonomy”, and demands self-empowerment.

The questions of how science and technology are transforming life and society are among the greatest intellectual challenges that surprisingly few of today's intellectuals take on. One of the first to do so was FAZ editor Frank Schirrmacher, who died in 2014. So it was not only an gesture of respect, but also an attempt at a programmatic continuation, when the publisher of the weekly Freitag, Jakob Augstein, dedicated a symposium on digital debate to Frank Schirrmacher.

Digerati - Acknowledgements




I am grateful to Judy Herrick, who, for the past year, has presented me with thousands of pages of accurate transcriptions. I also want to thank a number of people at HardWired: Peter Rutten, the publisher, for his time and valuable suggestions; Donna Linden, production director, for her diligence and attentiveness; and Susanna Dulkinys, design director; Jennifer Colton, marketing director; Alex McOsker, marketing coordinator; Leslie Rossman, publicist; and Judith Dunham and Constance Hale, for their careful copy editing.

Thanks to Sarah Taylor at Brockman, Inc. who organized a great number of details in coordinating the final stages of the project.

Finally, special thanks and appreciation to Katinka Matson for her patience and support, and to our son, Max Brockman, who helped instigate the project, went on the road with me, videotaped many of the encounters, and assisted throughout.

Digerati - Copyright



520 Third Street, Fourth Floor
San Francisco, CA 94107

HardWired books are distributed to the trade by Publishers Group West.

© 1996 by John Brockman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission from the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America
First Edition 1996
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

ISBN 1-888869-04-6

Text design by Susanna Dulkinys.
Cover design by John Plunkett.

Digerati - Chapter 33


Chapter 33


Richard Saul Wurman

THE SCOUT (Stewart Brand): There's a sharp designer and an able business mind behind all that persiflage.

Richard Saul Wurman is the chairman and creative director of the TED conferences. He is also an architect, a cartographer, the creator of the Access Travel Guide Series, and the author and designer of more than sixty books, including Information Architects (1996), Follow the Yellow Brick Road (1991) and Information Anxiety (1989).

Digerati - Chapter 32


Chapter 32


Dave Winer

THE STATESMAN (Steve Case): He's come out of nowhere to emerge as one of the poets of cyberspace. DaveNet is always quite engaging, and his ability, his willingness to open himself up to say whatever's on his mind is quite impressive.

Dave Winer is a software developer and the publisher of DaveNet.


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