The Joy of Data

I entered the world of consulting almost four years ago, and I’ve been lucky to have experienced various roles, from Project Management in Munich to Change and Strategy Management in Bristol. My interest in data sparked almost two years ago and being part of the Insights & Analytics team inspired me to improve my knowledge on what was out there…and my gosh, there’s a lot. At first this can be slightly overwhelming but with a little good advice and online resources I managed to get started.

Fast forward many months and I was attending Big Data London, with 7499 other delegates! And even more impressive, the venue had nine different theatres, covering the following areas:

  • (Key Note)
  • Fast Data
  • AI Lab
  • Data Ops
  • Data Driven
  • Self-Service Analytics
  • Customer Experience
  • Governance and MDM

Now, I could go into a bit more detail for each area, but I’d rather not as their website does just that

All talks I had attended provided excellent insight on the many exciting ways data was being used, but the one I was really looking forward to was the final key note speech, “The Joy of Data” given by Dr. Hannah Fry. You may have seen her on various BBC documentaries or her Ted talk, “The Mathematics of Love”. Where she gives you three Mathematically verifiable tips on finding the one, using the analysis of numbers to: ‘win’ in online dating, finding the perfect partner and finally avoiding divorce.

Intrigued? Click here to watch the talk – and if you’ve watched it, you can understand why there was such a long queue to attend. I was gripped from the start.

I will start with one of Fry’s first topics, the “Wikipedia: Getting to Philosophy” phenomenon which you can try now:

  1. Search for anything on Wikipedia and click on the first non-parenthesised, non-italicised link
  2. Ignore external links, links to the current page, or red links (to non-existent pages)
  3. It will eventually take you back to “Philosophy” – where you can stop.

Wikipedia states that Philosophy is “The Study of general and fundamental problems concerning matters such as existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind and language” through methods that include “…questions, critical discussion. Rational argument and systematic presentation”.

The five examples below, discussed by Fry, show us how data and philosophy can go hand in hand.



  1. OkCupid was founded by Harvard Mathematicians who happily admit they carry out experiments on their users in the article “We Experiment on Human Beings!”
  2. One of their studies shows a person’s measured attractiveness vs the number of messages received. Fry questioned how two people with the same rating received a different number of messages and proposed that the way they’ve been scored can tell us why.
  3. She uses two celebrities to illustrate her theory, Sarah Jessica Parker (SJP) and Portia de Rossi. Fry suggests that SJP will divide opinions (receiving more 5/5s and 1/5s) whereas Portia is likely to get a good score from most people.
  4. Knowing that SJP isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’, will prompt more users to message her as they believe there will be less competition.



  1. Summer 2018, a study was carried out, categorising tweets in West London.
  2. Surprisingly, it showed that French was the most widely spoken language. Perhaps there were a lot of French speaking people on school trips? Summer break? (The theories go on).
  3. However, a bit of digging revealed that wasn’t the case. Rather, all those tweets had been published by one person! A significant deviation from the truth. So make sure you dig a little deeper to confirm you’ve interpreted the data correctly.


Sex Ratio of Boys to Girls

  1. Data collected on male and female births show that (worldwide) after a war, there are more baby boys. Some of the examples demonstrating this is in 1919 (End of WW1), 1945 (End of WW2) and 1973 (Miner’s Strike…this one did make me laugh).
  2. Now, there are two theories around this:
    • God is replenishing the stock of boys (…)
    • Servicemen returning home after a long time away would mean an increased chance of a child being conceived early in the woman’s cycle – making it likely to be a baby boy.


The Sphere House

  1. SPHERE has developed sensors for the home which collects data about: eating behaviours, diet, sleep and changes in movements. The technology can then spot issues; detecting periods of depression, a stroke and even the ability able to predict falls. It has the power to intervene (e.g. with computer-based therapy for anxiety) or summon help as appropriate.
  2. Although this technology can be viewed as slightly intrusive, it has so many positives. It gives patients the independence to stay in their homes and their loved one’s peace of mind.
  3. EDF Energy have also launched smart sensors for the elderly, which can be connected to electrical devices and remotely monitored by the family, giving them some reassurance.


Doctor Death

  1. Now this one is really chilling. Dr. Harold Shipman (aka Dr. Death) has been called Britain’s worst serial killer. He killed over 215 patients from his practice and would tend to prey on women over the age of 75.
  2. The graph below shows the percentage of patient deaths under Shipman vs that of a “normal” practitioner in a day. It shows that it was around lunchtime when he would tend to strike (I really can’t imagine why…)
  3. Geographical profiling had later revealed clusters of victims living close to the practice. It’s understandable that the police didn’t want to wait for so many people to die to spot a pattern, but it is a viable technique used to catch serial criminals.



Fry’s talk was inspiring. Through real-life examples she showed us the importance of analysing data and asking the right questions to understand it. The more curious we are, the more we’ll investigate and find patterns in data sets, which can play a significant role in contributing to social good.

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existence.” Albert Einstein

Registration for Big Data LDN this year is now open, go check it out, and if you choose to attend – I might bump into you!



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