Chapter 2 Epicycles of Analysis
To the uninitiated, a data analysis may appear to follow a linear, one-step-after-the-other process which at the end, arrives at a nicely packaged and coherent result. In reality, data analysis is a highly iterative and non-linear process, better reflected by a series of epicycles (see Figure), in which information is learned at each step, which then informs whether (and how) to refine, and redo, the step that was just performed, or whether (and how) to proceed to the next step.
An epicycle is a small circle whose center moves around the circumference of a larger circle. In data analysis, the iterative process that is applied to all steps of the data analysis can be conceived of as an epicycle that is repeated for each step along the circumference of the entire data analysis process. Some data analyses appear to be fixed and linear, such as algorithms embedded into various software platforms, including apps. However, these algorithms are final data analysis products that have emerged from the very non-linear work of developing and refining a data analysis so that it can be “algorithmized.”