Peer Critique – Critical Questions for Big Data – Boyd & Crawford

Critical Questions for Big Data by Boyd & Crawford bring up six provocations about Big Data to spark conversations about the assumptions, values, and biases within the field of study. They question the definition of knowledge, objectivity, quantity, context, ethical aspects, and the power of actors.

The goal of the paper become clear through reading the abstract and the introduction. However, I think the introduction is too long and I think the abstract conveys the same information with fewer words. Therefore cutting down on the length of the introduction could be an improvement. The same goes for the abstract; it could be shorter and more concise. To understand the essence of the abstract, we only need the two last sentences. A tip could be to cut down on both, but utilize the compactness of the cutaways from the abstract to rewrite the introduction in a more compact way.

In the last paragraph of the introduction Boyd & Crawford write about how there are “… some significant and insightful studies currently being done that involve Big Data …” As a reader I get curious about what these are, and they do not provide any references to what it might be. My suggestion is therefore to include some sources, or at least the names of some scientists currently studying it, giving the reader the chance to look it up and increase their knowledge.

This leads me to my next point, the lack of a model or a table. The main body of the text is tidy with headings marking each of the questions, making it clear where the focus is. However, if you were in a hurry to extract the information, a simple table showing the six provocations and a short summary of the main takeaways, serving as a conclusion. This leads me to the last critique, the lack of a clear (maybe traditional) conclusion. If Boyd & Crawford were to follow my advice about the length of the abstract and introduction they would have space for a new heading called conclusion or summary, showing the wonderful table they just made.


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