A new book brings into pop culture a concept that we've already known for years: that is, governments and corporations use data mining and analysis to influence our lives in major and minor ways.
While Super Crunchers author Ian Ayres might not mention SAS by name (actually, I don't know whether he does because I haven't got my mitts on the book yet), there is no question that SAS is among the biggest players in this area.
In my own words from SAS for Dummies:
Unless you live as a hermit, chances are good that your life is touched by SAS almost every day.
Have you ever received an offer for a credit card in the mail? The bank might have used SAS to select you for the particular offer you received. Remember a recent news article that cited demographic trends in the United States? The Census Bureau uses SAS to crunch its numbers. Were you tempted to buy that new gadget in a big-name retail store? The corporate office might have used SAS to calculate the best price to set for that specific item on that specific week.
The rate you pay for life insurance, the analysis behind pharmaceutical drug trials, the quality of parts used to assemble your automobile — all of these are determined by people who use SAS. You don’t see SAS directly from day to day — but, like gravity, it’s an invisible force that affects your life.
This pull affects us even at a young age. As an example, Ayres cites the influence of data mining on what kids learn in school:
The “No Child Left Behind” Act, which requires schools to adopt teaching methods supported by rigorous data analysis, is causing teachers to spend up to 45 percent of class time training kids to pass standardized tests. Super Crunching is even shifting some teachers toward class lessons where every word is scripted and statistically vetted.
Consider that, along with how SAS will be used to help determine where kids attend school in Wake County, NC.
Data mining isn't the only factor in these decisions. For example, I'm certain that politics and parental concerns will influence the school assignment decisions as they always have. But this analysis is an increasingly important weight in the final outcome, and may result in quicker, more consistent decisions that yield more favorable results for all stakeholders.