This week I asked you to name to two-word search terms, which I denoted as “red” and “blue.” How’d you do?
— Mike Bostock (@mbostock) August 29, 2014
No Mike, you are definitely not doing this rite. A number of you guessed something communism-related:
— Maria Guzenko (@mguzenko) August 29, 2014
As it turns out, the Ngram chart for "communism" and "socialism" does closely resemble our mystery data:
But that wasn't it.
Commenter "lizziepoo" voiced a complaint several of you have raised since I started doing this thing: "It's name THOSE data. For God's sake, why must the Post be so illiterate? it's pitiful!"
Good question Lizzie! And in fact, you touched on the issue at the center of this week's challenge - is "data" plural or singular? The correct search terms are "data is" and "data are."
From a strict prescriptive grammar perspective, "data" is a plural word, so "data are" is correct, and this contest should be called "Name Those Data."
Popular usage has been favoring the singular use of "data" in recent years, such that "data is" is far more popular than "data are" Google searches.
Personally I favor the singular use of the word, and I'm not alone. While I respect the viewpoint of those who apply a strict constructionist approach to their grammar, at this points "data is" sounds more natural to my ear.
Moreover, a rigid application of the plural form of data can lead to things like this:
Before we get to the answers, a quick reader poll:
So who got the challenge right this time?
On Twitter, Seth Rosen-Amy was first out of the gate with the correct answer, with an assist from msgrosz, the winner of the Dark Knight of Data award a few weeks ago.
— Sam Rosen-Amy (@rosenamy) August 29, 2014
This is good enough for the Early Bird Prize for Prompt and Expeditious Accuracy. But Twitter user Eric Williams was the only one who noticed that I basically gave away the answer in the first sentence of the write-up this week.
@_cingrahamwhat gave it away w/ hint in the first paragraph "what it means to name data" - Data Is vs Data are #NameThatData
— Eric Williams (@ericnwilliams) August 29, 2014
For this, I award him the title of Data Savant and Decipherer of Clues, and pronounce him the winner of this week's contest. Congrats, Eric!
Programming note: I'm on vacation this week, which means Name That Data is too. See you next week.