Infographic: The History of Bad Data

How bad data changed the course of history


Data is everywhere. And big data is not any different. The way we operate is very dependent on the data that surrounds us. We use it to figure out how long it will take us to get to our destinations, businesses depend on it and science revolves around it. But sometimes our data and calculations don’t go according to plan, and then what happens?

Dating back thousands of years, there have been many mistakes made and accidental wins all from using bad data.

One of the most well-known results of bad data would be when Christopher Columbus left Spain on a trek that was intended to take him to Asia, but of course led to his famous discovery of the Americas. This unintentional discovery happened as a result of miscalculations. One of them being the miscommunication that happened between him and Persian geographer, Alfraganus, being on different pages about the about their units of measurement. Columbus was using 'Roman miles' while Alfraganus was using 'Arabic miles'.

Had Columbus stuck with Alfraganus’ units of measurement and checked with him to make sure they were both correct, the discovery could have never have happened.

World War II had its share of faulty data, too. British double agents relayed information to Germany telling them to overshoot London by 10 to 20 miles allowing London to be missed in bombing raids.

If Germany would have relied on more thorough officers they would have hit their target and had more casualties, to fall in line with their original plan.

One of the most notable business disasters of the modern era was caused, in part, by bad data. The Enron Scandal of 2001 led to the bankruptcy of what was once the sixth-largest energy company in the world. When the stock prices started to skyrocket in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, things quickly started to change. Documents were being shredded and it became apparent that much of the company’s data was fictionalized. Despite being worth over $100 billion by 2000, the company couldn’t survive the ensuing fallout. Enron ended up going bankrupt and billions of dollars were lost.

Most recently, the result of the 2016 presidential election could largely be due to bad data. All of the polls were pointing to Hilary winning the ticket to the White House, so where did everyone go wrong? Polling organization is to blame and some say they didn’t use the most advanced statistics and best ways in predicting the outcome.

The result of one miscalculation or communication in data creation can lead to so much more than what one would originally imagine. Dating back thousands of years, Utopia, Inc. created an infographic looking into more bad data experiences.


Read next:

Why Blockchain Hype Must End