The article is an attempt to present six arguments, or “provocations”, the authors see necessary to be discussed in the emerging world of Big Data. Their six main points on questioning Big Data are about: Producing knowledge, the notion of objectivity, the notion of ‘big equals better’, the notion of lost value, ethics and emerging digital divides.
My initial reaction to the paper is that it is structured in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow along since they give each of their ideas its own clearly defined section. As the paper moves through each section, boyd and Crawford explain every concept they introduce, thus eliminating the implicit knowledge needed to understand their arguments. They also make sure to include the fact that this paper is from their point of view as social media experts (2012, p. 664). However, I have three main points of critique that could make this paper and its arguments more explicit:
Critique point #1: Purpose of the text: The purpose of the paper (2012, p. 662) is to introduce some essential questions/provocations that we must ask before succumbing to the era of Big Data, and they continuously refer to the importance of asking said questions. However, whenever they emphasize this importance, they fail to suggest how, where or by whom these questions must be asked: “We must ask difficult questions of Big Data’s models of intelligibility before they crystalize into new orthodoxies.” (2012, p. 666). As a reader, it is difficult to decode which context these questions must be asked. Instead, I suggest this idea to be the focal point of the paper, potentially inciting richer discussions among readers.
Critique point #2: Word level choices: The paper is titled “Critical Questions for Big Data” inviting the reader to believe that they are about to be presented with a list of questions. Instead, boyd and Crawford calls them ‘provocations’ (2012, p. 662), hence why I in this review have had a hard time deciding on whether to call them questions, provocations or arguments. To avoid confusion, I would suggest sticking to a single definition or explain why they are using the terms interchangeably.
Critique point #3: Lacking conclusion: Referring back to my first point of critique regarding the purpose of the text, it would also have been useful to have a conclusion or at least a summary of all six sections. The paper ends with the sixth argument that, among other things, encourages us to consider how Big Data is shaping the world (2014, p. 675). Instead, they should have wrapped up their concluding thoughts along with clear calls to action in a separate section.