Data Science and Prejudice – Blessing or Curse ?

We examine the deep nature of bias and prejudice and wonder if prejudiced minds and 'good' data scientists coexist in harmony and if they can coexist, does it lead to disruption or disruptive innovation?

By Ankit Mahajan, CEO and Chief Editor, Based in Austria and India


A Conversation between Accused, Lawyer, Judge and an Objective and Subjective Data Scientist in the Court of Law:

  • Accused: I am a good person and not Selfish.
  • Lawyer/Cross Examiner/Prosecutor: You are good to a certain section of people under certain conditions (like how much others are useful to you at that given point in that surrounding) but not in general to humanity, which makes you Selfish.
  • Judge: Please present facts or situations backed by evidence, where the Accused has not acted 'Good' and shown traits of selfishness.
  • Subjective Data Scientist (analogy with today's Media in some cases) : The accused is very likely to be Selfish based on available information or data points and hence not good. In fact the Accused is SELFISH and not a good human being.
  • Objective Data Scientist (while addressing to Subjective Data Scientist): First define what is 'Good', the premise on which you are basing the argument and then argue whether the accused is good or not. Are you making an assumption whether all Selfish People are not good?. If yes, then please include that assumption as part of the argument and conclusion and then define your hypothesis.

Now consider another conversation:

3 Data Science Geeks debating while smoking in the non smoking zone of the Company Campus-who is a good data scientist

  • A Prejudiced Geek (expert coder in Python and Spark): If you don't know how to code in Spark and Python, you are worthless and can't be a successful Data Scientist. Releases a puff of smoke while looking upwards as if heaven and hell are both greeting him with garlands of coding tools...
  • A Combative Geek (codes in SAS and R :-)): When did writing code in Spark and Python cure Cancer or solve other world problems, you idiot?. I remember your last cloud hosted price optimization application actually ran us in million dollar losses due to faulty dynamic pricing algorithm. Releases a puff of smoke flaunting his smoke circles...
  • An Objective Geek (tool agnostic): Can you define what is your definition of success, what is worthless and the parameters that define a data scientist? Or is the data scientist just another fancy hyperbolic term which is still evolving its definition? Or is it that anything, even though it is evolved with consensus, but still has human interpretation can be classified as subjective.? Nips the bud....

The above 2 conversations are just small examples of how public discourse is evolving even though world is becoming smaller with the advent of technology and science in this age of powerful opinionated media with fast, high volume and high velocity real time information.

My experience in the Data Science Industry has made me ponder very closely on problems, issues, situations and moments with a greater sense of objectivity and has propelled me to upheld my fundamental belief that human beings are born subjective and tend to become more and more prejudiced in life unless they become cognizant of subjective and objective context to every situation, and assumptions underneath. There is still a difference between a prejudiced mind and a prejudiced mind that is aware of the prejudices.

If you study the geo-politics of the world-whether its the current ISIS conflict in the middle east or whether it was the Colonisation in the past, or the Cold War between Russia and the US or the World Wars or whether it was the rise and subsequent downfall of Adolf Hitler, or whether it is the radicalisation aspects of the religion, all these events are/were the manifestations of prejudiced minds and history is replete with examples where prejudice of a leader benefitted one community at the expense of other.

It makes me ponder in a local context (like data scientists talk in case of machine learning algorithms-convergence to a local maxima/minima):

  • Is a prejudiced mind mutually exclusive to data scientist? or
  • are these two overlapping sets?
  • If these are overlapping sets-Isn't that ironical, as Objectivity and scientific examination should be part of the genetic makeup of a Data Scientist? (Like it is ironical in another context-somebody who doesn't like being judged, but judges others at the drop of a hat).
  • Is it something to be concerned about ? or
  • it does not simply matter?

It makes me ponder further in a global context (like we say in machine learning-convergence to a global maxima/minima :-) ) - Is the progress in science and technology and ever so powerful media converging the world or diverging the world? To be more specific - is the Prejudiced Mind

  • leading the progress of civilisation? or
  • is it occluding the path to real progress-i.e. the evolution of the mind? or
  • it is something which is the part of a ZERO SUM game? or
  •  is it that advances in Science, Technology and Media go in tandem and parallel to the evolution of mind without intersecting it ? or
  • is it that both the aspects (prejudice and advancement in Science, technology and media) are manifestations of each other ?

Coming back to the question of data scientists - (some call it the sexiest job of the century) - I wonder can prejudiced minds and 'good' data scientists coexist in harmony and if they can coexist, does it  lead to disruption or disruptive innovation or there is no relationship?

I try to ponder deeply and objectively with slightly prejudiced mind that is aware of its prejudices.... :-) The Story does not end here... More to follow.....

(Image Credits:

Bio: Ankit Mahajan, CEO and Chief Editor, Based in Austria and India.