• Caroline Carruthers

Is Our Drinking Led By Data?

Updated: Jan 29

Pubs are back! Whilst lots of people flocked to their local to have their first pint in months over the weekend, there was also plenty of criticism online. Many asked if we were actually in the clear yet, and if heading down the local meant you could be putting more people at risk. Whether you enjoyed a pint at the weekend or decided to stay at home, your decision was more than likely based on your personal gut feeling than an objective view of the data that we all have access to (and that is if you trust or understand the data). So, how should we properly assess this data before making decisions, and why can two people looking at the same information often come to radically different conclusions?

This weekend was the most visible (and recent) examples of how divided we can be by our perception of data. For context, there are an average of 513 daily cases of coronavirus in the UK based on a seven-day rolling average. Some see this number as still far too high, whilst others point to the fact that it is the lowest number of daily cases since the middle of March (and crucially, pre-lockdown). That’s two dif

DRAFTJS_BLOCK_KEY:2pq13Pubs are back! Whilst lots of people flo

ferent interpretations of the same data. So which interpretation is correct? Well, they both are because it’s based on your own personal interpretation of risk and current circumstances.

The difference in perspective raises an interesting question: is it actually possible to approach decisions, about our daily freedoms or otherwise, in a totally objective and data-driven way? As individuals, we often fall prey to confirmation bias, where, instead of using data to make an objective decision, we seek to use it as evidence to support our own personal opinions.

Recent polling shows that 48% of the population believes that lockdown is being eased too quickly, compared to 37% who believe it is being relaxed at the right pace. If you include the 7% who believe the changes aren’t coming quickly enough (and exclude don’t knows), you get the dreaded 52-48 split of Referendum fame between those who wish to keep stricter lockdown measures and those who want them to be relaxed. Ironically, I’m now using this data to fit my own narrative, but I think that it’s fair to say that the issue has divided the country pretty much half and half.

To me, this highlights that, in a variety of different circumstances, people interpret and react

differently when presented with identical sets of da

ta. Without wanting to make gross overgeneralisations, a young couple living apart who haven’t seen each other in months might be much more open to easing of restrictions than someone shielding with a vulnerable, elderly relative. Both will interpret the data differently as both have different factors driving their decision making.

Understanding how data impacts real world decisions on a daily basis and striving to investigate the role it can play in helping us make better decisions, is part and parcel why I started Carruthers and Jackson. Confirmation bias, and the question of whether we can ever use data objectively, is just one of the questions we will be tackling alongside global data leaders at this year’s free-to-attend, virtual Chief Data Officer’s Summer School 2020.

Now in its third year, we’re once again welcoming data leaders from all around the world to learn, collaborate and grow as part of a community of like-minded professionals. Our attendees might be different every year as the global community of data leaders continues to grow, but our dedication to asking questions, interrogating the data and starting conversations has never changed. We hope to see you there – registration open until 17th July.

Post-class pints optional!

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