Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Plural-Data Prescriptivism in Academia

I really have no problems with people using data in the plural. Rather, I'm annoyed at the small and sometimes vocal minority within the statistics community (and in the wider academic community) which likes to proselytise the plural-data rule as if there was some sort of authority to it. Unfortunately, that's not how language works; language is democratic, and its 'rules' naturally evolve through the usage of its speakers. Excepting a dead civilisation, mediƦval European scholars, and some modern-day scholars, hardly anyone uses 'data' as a plural noun any more. The fact that some scientists or statisticians would claim that there is a 'correct' way of using this word, then, strikes me as rather contrary to the goal of science itself -- namely, to describe the mechanisms underlying a system by examining it empirically.

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