“Can data solve our wicked problems?”

That’s a direct quote from an audience member in yesterday’s online program at the Leventhal Center: “Can data solve our wicked problems?”

The program, titled “Matt Bui on how communities use & refuse data about themselves,” was part of the “Angles on bending lines” exhibit at the Leventhal Map & Education Center at the Boston Public Library. I suppose I was influenced by the other Leventhal programs I had seen, or by the “Map and Education Center” phrase, as I was expecting a lot about maps, especially about not taking the information conveyed on maps at face value.

I was mistaken.

Maybe 5% was about maps; the rest was about, well, “how communities use and refuse data about themselves,” just as they had promised. So I guess I can’t complain!

Anyhow, modulo my wrong expectations, the program was pretty good, if a bit too political. As Bui is LA-based, one of the few maps he showed was one of red-lining in Los Angeles. It was definitely interesting, and since we were watching on YouTube it was easy to pause the presentation and study the map for as long as we wished. One member of the audience asked why red is bad, but otherwise this segment made sense.

While I’m being grumpy, I supposed I should complain about that cute phrase “use and refuse” in the title of the talk. In the first place, it’s a garden-path phrase as it encourages the reader to think that the last three letters of “refuse” have something to do with “use,” which they don’t. Second, the communities in question aren’t really refusing data; they are refusing data collection, which is quite a different story. Of course the politics surrounding collection of data can be important and interesting, but it’s not maps and it’s not math, so I was disappointed. Mostly my own fault; it was pretty good, just not what I was expecting. I will be less inclusive in selecting Leventhal events in the future.

Categories: Dorchester/Boston, Math, Teaching & Learning, Technology