Historical Social Research

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Nina Baur, Peter Graeff, Lilli Braunisch & Malte Schweia: The Quality of Big Data. Development, Problems, and Possibilities of Use of Process-Generated Data in the Digital Age. [Abstract]

The paper introduces the HSR Forum on digital data by discussing what big data are. The authors show that big data are not a new type of social science data but actually one of the oldest forms of social science data. In addition, big data are not necessarily digital data. Regardless, current methodological debates often assume that “big data” are “digital data.” The authors thus also show that digital data have a big drawback concerning data quality because they do not cover the whole population – due to so-called digital divides, not everybody is on the internet, and who is on the internet, is socially structured. The result is a selection bias. Based on this analysis, the paper concludes that big data and digital data are data like any other type of data – they have both advantages and specific blind spots. So rather than glorifying or demonising them, it seems much more sensible to discuss which specific advantages and drawbacks they have as well as when and how they are better suited for answering specific research questions and when and how other types of data are better suited – these are the questions that are addressed in this HSR Forum.

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