First off, the pure utter worthlessness of the vast amount of information out there is absolutely confirmed by Dalessandro. "Very few companies survive on selling data," he said. "Data is so cheap that these companies end up pivoting and selling service."
He explained that the basic tools of statistics will always be just that: basic tools. To Dalessandro, data is no savior. A good data researcher is like a jury determining truth based on the evidence at hand, he said. In practice, that role boils down to two basic jobs: making predictions and telling stories. Making predictions is relatively easy, he said. There are well-defined methodologies for making forecasts, and given the assumptions made it's reasonable to expect forecasts to land within the margin of error created. But telling stories with these same numbers? That is an art, Dalessandro said. "In this role," he said, "I usually have to recreate some aspect of the world as seen by the data. Being given a data set is like being given a bloody glove, a ransom note and a bullet and having to recreate the crime. In this capacity I am a detective." He said his tools as a data cop are the classic objective statistical formulas and methods, but success hinges on a hard-to-define creative ability. "Some people can be brilliant at math and computer science," he said, "but suck at this game." That makes the investor lesson from Election 2012 a painfully sobering one: When a bunch of numbers are staring you in the face, passing themselves off as true, be darn sure you get to know the digital Wizard of Oz who is almost certainly making those numbers talk. Pretend otherwise, meaning that by themselves cold, pure data -- as clean as they might taste -- are by themselves anything close to reality, and you'll only wind up like Mitt Romney: Coming up more than a few votes short.