Over at Data Science Central is this interesting article on “data janitor work”: the fact that the biggest hurdle to large-scale data analysis is wrangling the data into a usable form. It is, of course, directly applicable to doing text analysis in the “Million Book Library.”
Data scientist[s] spend a comparatively large amount of time in the data preparation phase of a project. Whether you call it data wrangling, data munging, or data janitor work, the [New York] Times article estimates 50%-80% of a data scientists’ time is spent on data preparation. We agree. . . .
Before you start your project, define what data you need. This seems obvious, but in the world of big data, we hear a lot of people say, “just throw it all in”. If you ingest low quality data that is not salient to your business objectives, it will add noise to your results.
The more noisy the data, the more difficult it will be to see the important trends. You must have a defined strategy for the data sources you need and the particular subset of that data, which is relevant for the questions you want to ask.
Here’s an interesting think piece from Frank Pasquale in Aeon on the nature and role of data in society today.
Regulators want to avoid the irrational or subconscious biases of human decision-makers, but of course human decision-makers devised the algorithms, inflected the data, and influenced its analysis. No ‘code layer’ can create a ‘plug and play’ level playing field. Policy, human judgment, and law will always be needed. Algorithms will never offer an escape from society. . . .
An inference . . . may not be worth much on its own. But once people are so identified, it could easily be combined and recombined with other lists – say, of plus-sized shoppers, or frequent buyers of fast food – that solidify the inference. A new algorithm from Facebook instantly classifies individuals in photographs based on body type or posture. The holy grail of algorithmic reputation is the most complete possible database of each individual, unifying credit, telecom, location, retail and dozens of other data streams into a digital doppelganger.
However certain they may be about our height, or weight, or health status, it suits data gatherers to keep the classifications murky. A person could, in principle, launch a defamation lawsuit against a data broker that falsely asserted the individual concerned was diabetic. But if the broker instead chooses a fuzzier classification, such as ‘member of a diabetic-concerned household’, it looks a lot more like an opinion than a fact to courts. Opinions are much harder to prove defamatory – how might you demonstrate beyond a doubt that your household is not in some way ‘diabetic-concerned’? But the softer classification may lead to exactly the same disadvantageous outcomes as the harder, more factual one.
Stephan G. Schmid, “The ‘Hellenisation’ of the Nabataeans: A New Approach,” Studies in the History and Archaeology of Jordan 7 (2007): 407-419.
In this article, Schmid “give[s] a short overview on what is known about Nabataean material culture in its best understandable categories today and to look for whether there is any common line of development or even a model that could fit to most of these categories” (407). He notes that, although the Nabataeans are historically attested from 312 BCE, there is no evidence of a Nabataean material culture until around 100 BCE; moreover, when it appears, it is thoroughly Hellenistic. Schmid argues, following Diodorus Siculus, that the Nabataeans were “nomads or semi-nomads frequenting once or twice a year the same place for trade and business” (415) until ca. 100 BCE, after which they sedentarized. Their sedentarization lead them to develop a material culture. In the absence of an existing material culture, the Nabataeans simply “oriented their new material culture according to the mainstreams of the contemporary Hellenistic world in its Near Eastern variant” (415), into which they gradually incorporated Roman and “proper Nabataean” (416) elements.
Martin Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism: Studies in Their Encounter in Palestine during the Early Hellenistic Period (trans. John Bowden; Philadelphia: Fortress, 1974) argues, against the prevailing wisdom, that Palestinian Judaism was as Hellenized as Diaspora Judaism, and that, if a distinction must be drawn, it should be based on linguistic difference, namely that Diaspora Jews spoke Greek while Palestinian Jews spoke Hebrew or Aramaic.
The book has received a good deal of attention from JBL. Kevin G. O’Connell’s 1971 review of the German original and J. K. Aitken’s 2004 retrospective are available together here, and Louis J. Feldman’s review article (“Hengel’s Judaism and Hellenism in Retrospect,” JBL 96 (1977): 371-382) can be found here.
In Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements in the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis: Winston, 1985), Richard A. Horsley and John S. Hanson read Josephus to examine the peasant-level revolutionary movements of first-century Palestine. They argue against the idea that a single unified anti-Roman resistance group operated in Palestine at that time, instead showing that Rome, the Jewish elites, and several peasant-level groups were all in conflict.
Marcus Borg has a good synopsis and review of the book in JBL 107 (1988): 135-137.