The Petabyte Age

June 24, 2008

The latest issue of Wired magazine includes a series of articles lead by the editor Chris Anderson’s article, “The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete.” In Wired‘s usually controversial approach to topics, he leads off with the quote, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.” In the petabyte age, we move from local storage to storage in the cloud and “information is not a matter of simple three- and four-dimensional taxonomy and order but of dimensionally agnostic statistics.”

He cites one medical example, he cites Craig Vetner who “went from sequencing individual organisms to sequencing entire ecosystems.” He proposes that “We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show.”

Do these rash statements have relevance to health care? Much of health care information of interest to researchers are in secure databases such as EMRs. However, these are moving to the Cloud via RHIOs and initiatives like Google Health. Some research centers have placed data online and invited others to analyze. I think that there are huge amounts of data in health care that will come available for researchers in the next few years but it may not replace traditional randomized clinical trials.

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