Posts tagged "quantification"
One part of the emergence of the new way of thinking derived from the consequences of the counting and measurement that came to be a part of government activity by the eighteenth century. Population size, trade data, mortality rates, disease rates … all of these topics came in for extensive state scrutiny and investigation. And these sources of quantitative data permitted the formulation of new questions: were city dwellers more or less prone to suicide? Did Protestants or Catholics have higher birth rates?
Understanding Society: Ian Hacking on chance as worldview

McNamara relied on the figures, fetishized them. With his perfectly combed-back hair and his flawlessly knotted tie, McNamara felt he could comprehend what was happening on the ground only by staring at a spreadsheet—at all those orderly rows and columns, calculations and charts, whose mastery seemed to bring him one standard deviation closer to God.

In 1977, two years after the last helicopter lifted off the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Saigon, a retired Army general, Douglas Kinnard, published a landmark survey called The War Managers that revealed the quagmire of quantification. A mere 2 percent of America’s generals considered the body count a valid way to measure progress. “A fake—totally worthless,” wrote one general in his comments. “Often blatant lies,” wrote another. “They were grossly exaggerated by many units primarily because of the incredible interest shown by people like McNamara,” said a third.

The use, abuse, and misuse of data by the U.S. military during the Vietnam War is a troubling lesson about the limitations of information as the world hurls toward the big-data era. The underlying data can be of poor quality. It can be biased. It can be misanalyzed or used misleadingly. And even more damning, data can fail to capture what it purports to quantify.

Robert McNamara and the Dangers of Big Data at Ford and in the Vietnam War | MIT Technology Review (data ≠ analysis ≠ decision; just like there’s porn of everything, everything can be fetishized)

Above all else, analyzing the state of the world’s health - be it by looking at obesity rates, cancer cases, malaria deaths, or HIV-free births - requires decent statistics.

Billions of dollars are allocated and whole policy shifts made on the basis of figures from United Nations agencies like the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF or the World Bank.

Yet good data are hard to find, as the WHO’s statistical analysis team knows. And extrapolating meaningful global figures from sparse raw material can be fraught with danger.

In an interview with Reuters ahead of this week’s World Health Statistics report, Ties Boerma, WHO’s director of health statistics and information systems, started with a little known but alarming fact: “Two thirds of deaths in the world are not registered. And a third of births are also not registered.”

Analysis: Health by numbers: A statistician’s challenge | Reuters
I really doubt if anyone who has used the $1.25 a day line (or prior “$1 a day” line, based on old and out-dated data) thinks it is “morally acceptable” as long as nobody lives on less than this frugal sum. Nor is it imaginable that the UN thinks it is “morally acceptable” as long as no more 20% or so of the developing world’s population lives under $1.25 a day, as implied by their MDG for poverty.
Politically-filtered views on progress against poverty
… the next century will be one ongoing march toward making nearly every aspect of our personal lives — from exterior to interior — more quantifiable.
Toward a Quantified Life? » Sociology Lens
A blog companion to a bunch of courses on quantitative methods.

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