by David Banks
” Jurgeson writes:
Positivism’s intensity has waxed and waned over time, but it never entirely dies out, because its rewards are too seductive. The fantasy of a simple truth that can transcend the divisions that otherwise fragment a society riven by power and competing agendas is too powerful, and too profitable. To be able to assert convincingly that you have modeled the social world accurately is to know how to sell anything from a political position, a product, to one’s own authority. Big Data sells itself as a knowledge that equals power. But in fact, it relies on pre-existing power to equate data with knowledge.
“I am not sure if the resurgence of positivism in the guise of Big Data should be considered a failing of STS or the success of powerful and willfully ignorant technocratic elites. Probably equal portions of both, but I’m going to put the pressure on my fellow STS scholars to see this as a professional, collective failing. While we still are far from a world without misogyny, white supremacy, or empire, we as academics should take note of our own house: the internal fights at the level of institutions that we’ve let slip by us. Do we apply to Big Data grants and then use the funds for research that undermines the concept altogether? Do we participate in social media-funded conferences and research centers so that we may, from within, raise concerns early and often? Or do we confront positivism head-on as the force for command and control that we know that it is, in all of its forms, and insist on not legitimating Big Data by attaching our names to it? To all three I’d say “yes.” “