Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Shakespeare poll

As noted, Stephan Shakespeare, the founder of YouGov, the political polling organisation, has been asked to devise a national data strategy. He has produced an independent review of public sector information (PSI) in which he says that PSI should be given to innovative data scientists because some good may come of it but it's hard to say what that good might be.

The Exchequer would be deprived of at least £143 million of revenue but letting the innovative data scientists have the PSI for free would "leverage wider economic benefits far exceeding this by orders of magnitude". The wider economic benefits are unknown, as is the number of orders of magnitude by which they would exceed £143 million.

It's a "straightforward decision", he says, although it looks more like a straightforward guess, "the reforms that I have suggested should not result in an unjustifiably high cost to Government". Should? That depends what cost you regard as "high" and when you regard it as "unjustifiably" high.

It's a moot point. Shakespeare admits that "forecasting future benefits is also hard to predict. How businesses and individuals might use datasets in the future to generate new products and services and by implication impact economic growth, is equally unknown".

Despite having no costs available and despite being unable to name the benefits, Shakespeare says "my conclusion is that to quantify the costs and benefits precisely from outside Government is difficult due to the many complexities, however, I think there is sufficient evidence to support the theory that the benefits far outweigh the costs". Think? This looks more like make-believe.

Is he right? How would you know?

In the old days, when people still mooted, you might have insisted on being provided with facts and with a valid argument.

Not now. Now you conduct a poll, don't you.

And that's what we did. The results are there for all to see at the top of this web page, on the right, for just a few days more. "Is the Shakespeare review make-believe?", we asked on 4 June 2013, we broadcast the question to the blogosphere and the Tweetosphere and we left the polls open for a whole month.

Since the polls closed, innovative data scientists have been innovatively analysing the scientific results and here they are, presented graphically in the simple primary colours that even you can be expected to understand:
Over 83% of respondents consider Shakespeare's argument to be make-believe – incontrovertible evidence that we should ignore his review.

Only six votes were cast, you may say. Would that worry you if the result had gone the other way? How many votes would it take to convince you?

How do you decide the answers to those questions?

More polls?

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