The outdoor industry has a data problem, and it’s no longer due to a lack of it. EOG’s Dr. Katy Stevens explains how to not get lost in today’s information overload.

Before I go on, let me make one thing clear: I am all for data and unequivocally believe that it is a critical part of sustainability and should be the main driver for the decision we are making. Without data, we cannot set ambitious targets, and we cannot measure progress, plain and simple.

However, we are currently seeing problems with the quality and quantity of data and information, and there are a few factors fueling this.

Firstly, when we start measuring, and putting numbers on things, we are able to rank them, and automatically winners and losers start to emerge, which is resulting in highly emotional responses. This is a situation that we are currently seeing a lot (an example of this would be the conversations around the LCA data of various fiber types). To address this, many organizations are going to great lengths to prove their worth, and in some cases cherry-picking data to make it look as if the scientific consensus matches their agenda and so the general quality of available information is in decline.

Secondly, we are living in a time where the prevalence of digital and mass media is leading to an incredibly rapid turnover of information and some media outlets are publishing huge amounts daily. This is leading to sensationalist reporting and misrepresentation of information for the sake of a story. Validity of information is reducing as the lines between reporting and academic publishing are becoming blurred and industry reports come out of non-credible sources, and where magazine articles can be referred to as “open access papers,” leaning on the grandeur of academia to over-authenticate the integrity of information.

Sometimes it is accidental, “the quest for more” leads to inexperienced individuals generating or interpreting data, other times it is wholly intentional to fit a specified agenda, however, in both cases it is serving to polarize the industry and is leading to some extremist behaviors.

How to overcome information overload?

So, how do we find any clarity in this situation? Primarily, we need slow down, to produce our own data where possible instead of relying on secondary data. We need to do this with care, using appropriate tools and interpreting the data in correct ways. If we use reports, we need to look for credible information that is coming from verified sources, even checking references if necessary, and finally, we need to remember that just because something has been published, it doesn’t make it a reliable source of information.


Lead Photo: Bofu Shaw on Unsplash 

Katy Stevens
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