Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Predictive Power of data

At the beginning of the last century it was thought that the universe was static and unchanging. Some of sciences greatest minds believed it with all their hearts including Einstein. When developing his General Theory of Relativity the equations actually predicted that the universe must be in motion, either expanding or contracting. He ended up fudging the numbers to cancel out this force to maintain his beloved static universe. Either that or he had a Nostradamus like vision that allowed him to predict the presence of Dark Matter & Dark Energy....but I digress.

Eventually it was discovered by observation that the universe was indeed expanding from a "big bang". One of the implications of this was the fact that if everything in the universe started from a super dense and tiny spec then it must have been very hot. Now as it expands it cools but some of that heat should be left over. Tedious calculations determined that that heat should now be in the form of microwave radiation that has an equivalent temperature of 2.726 degrees above absolute zero...this is the temperature of the universe.

In 1989 the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite was launched to confirm this data and the results were announced the following year. The results were so stunningly in line with the predictions that the scientists literally had increase the size of their error bars on the diagram because they were originally smaller than the thickness of the line that made up the graph.

This, in my opinion has two morals that we can take away with us. One is that no matter how brilliant someone is and what the data is telling them there is still personal prejudice and bias that sometimes has to be over come. Einstein later stated that the cosmological constant that he added to his equations to keep the universe static was the greatest blunder of his life but can you imagine trying to argue with him before that realization that the data doesn't support his views? Two, if data can be used to predict the temperature of the universe 13.7 billion years after the big bang to such a high degree of certainty imagine what it can do for your business. We only have one universe to study and can only study it as it is in its current state. For a website we have thousands, of people coming to them every day, the data that we can collect is enormous, and the potential for growth through data based decision making is seemingly infinite.

Welcome to Neural Perturbations where we'll explore those infinite possibilities of data based decision making through web analytics...or any other random thoughts that happen to take over my cortex that day.

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