Harper Reed, who was Chief Technology Officer for the 2012 Obama re-election campaign, participated in a conference on Building a Smarter University: Big Data, Innovation, and Ingenuity at the State University of New York (SUNY) this week, giving a keynote address.
“Big Data is bullshit,” Reed exclaimed.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that: “Mr. Reed is generally bullish on the power of data. He took the audience through a litany of ways in which President Obama used data to win re-election, such as scraping supporters’ Facebook information to blast out personalized email messages.”
“But, with apologies to the technology companies sponsoring the SUNY event, Mr. Reed skewered their industry’s promotion of the buzzwords ‘Big Data,'” according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.
“The ‘big’ there is purely marketing,” Mr. Reed reportedly said. “This is all fear … This is about you buying big expensive servers and whatnot.”
Reed’s criticism exposes the big money interests promoting the SUNY conference and other higher education “reform” initiatives across the nation. The SUNY conference website announces that its sponsors include Xerox, EMC2, McGraw Hill Education, TIAA CREF, CISCO, ING, and IBM.
Those of us working in the digital humanities need to consider carefully what approaches to database construction, data mining, and data usage fit with the principles and standards of academic research. Otherwise, we risk allowing big education and technology corporations to drive the agenda of digital humanities, technology-assisted learning, and higher education in general.
Note: I was unable to attend the SUNY conference, but I hope to find out more about the presentations as they get posted on the conference website.