Saturday, September 12, 2009

Let's talk about the word "data"

(The data show a downward trend.)

A pet peeve of mine is the abuse of the word "data", and it has been bugging me for years.  Specifically, commentators on tv and radio, websites, and magazines almost never get the agreement between subject and verb correct, when the subject of the sentence is the word "data".  (From a Google webpage: "There is no data for this view").  The word "data" is plural.  So, for example, a correct sentence would be, "These data are not very interesting".  It is incorrect to say, "The data is foreboding".  I watch CNBC, the business channel, several hours per day during the week when the stock market is open, and those people happily get it wrong all day long.  I'm sick of this!

All scientists know that the word "data" is plural.  Our fear is that our research will produce only a single piece of information, which would be a "datum", the singular of the word "data".  I am sure all economists know the same.  But those who report on science or economics continue to get it wrong.

Wake up media!  Correct yourself!  Set an example!  Be the first in your profession to get this right.  And, by the way, the word is pronounced "day ta"; don't pronounce it like it was spelled "datta".  But that is another subject.  Let's just start with baby steps.

(Addendum: I now have a Cause on Facebook called "The Word "Data" is Plural".  Please join it if you want to support this important movement.  Among my FB friends are many tv commentators (Joan Lunden, Michael Wolff, Ron Insana, Amy Robach, Peggy Noonan, George Stephanopoulos, Contessa Brewer, Alexis Glick, Craig Crawford, Charlie Gasparino, etc.).  If any of them actually pick up on this Cause, maybe we can make an impact.)