In their recent book, Big Data, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier suggest that the science of statistics as we know it is on the cusp of change: our reliance on sampling, and therefore the management of probabilities and confidence that are so central to statistics, will become obsolete in a world where in many cases all the data are available if only we have the means to obtain them.
"the need for sampling is an artifact of a period of information scarcity, a product of the natural constraints on interacting with information in an analog era"
Mayer-Schönberger, V. and Cukier, K. (2013) Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (pg.13)
We have become so accustomed to basing statistical production on sample surveys, and so adept at analysing and manipulating probabilities, that we have often failed to recognise that sampling represents "artificial fetters".
Is this far-fetched? Realistic, but premature and sensationalist? Do we need to redefine 'statistics'?
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