|Technically, "because I didn't have observational data."|
Working with experimental data requires you only
to be able to calculate two means and look up
a t-statistic on a table.
and I surely can't be the only person who always says "Of the future!" in the same way that the announcers of the 1930s Flash Gordon serials would announce the impending arrival of aliens --
but that this torrent of data means that it will take vastly longer for historians to sort through the historical record.
He is wrong. It means precisely the opposite. It means that history is on the verge of becoming a quantified academic discipline.
The sensations Silbey is feeling have already been captured by an earlier historian, Henry Adams, who wrote of his visit to the Great Exposition of Paris:
He [Adams] cared little about his experiments and less about his statesmen, who seemed to him quite as ignorant as himself and, as a rule, no more honest; but he insisted on a relation of sequence. And if he could not reach it by one method, he would try as many methods as science knew. Satisfied that the sequence of men led to nothing and that the sequence of their society could lead no further, while the mere sequence of time was artificial, and the sequence of thought was chaos, he turned at last to the sequence of force; and thus it happened that, after ten years’ pursuit, he found himself lying in the Gallery of Machines at the Great Exposition of 1900, his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of forces totally new.
Because it is strictly impossible for the human brain to cope with large amounts of data, this implies that in the age of big data we will have to turn to the tools we've devised to solve exactly that problem. And those tools are statistics.
It will not be human brains that directly run through each of the petabytes of data the US Air Force collects. It will be statistical software routines. And the historical record that the modal historian of the future confronts will be one that is mediated by statistical distributions. Inshallah, yes, this means that historians will debate whether a given event was caused by a process that follows a negative binomial or a Poisson distribution.
And scholarship will be better for it.
I do have the notes for my long-promised sequel to "What do quallys know, anyway?" , tentatively entitled "Quantoids don't know anything," and this will probably prompt me to finally finish it.