[OPE] why numbers no longer win arguments

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Fri May 08 2009 - 05:07:01 EDT

I do not think the article really explains why. It concludes:

"Numbers are often used without a sense of proportion. Proportion is often
invoked without a sense of the numbers. But isn't proportion what numbers
are for? Perhaps it's time to take out some of the heat."

Perhaps the real problem is that numbers are used either abusively in
arguments (it is not clear what they really refer to, and inappropriate
comparisons are made with them) or in a select way (you can only know what
they signify, if you possess certain background knowledge or specialist
knowledge which most people haven't, or the numerical information is
explicitly or implicitly biased towards the viewpoint of some group).

But in fact people are more numerate than ever, they use numbers all the
time on their mobile phones, and numerical relativisations are increasingly
essential for an evaluation of how big or small a problem is.
Personally, I could not do my job without any numbers, since e.g. for the
organisation of records management, the use of identifying numbers is

The BBC, whatever its merits, is not infrequently just as guilty of
presenting data abusively, in a "sexed-up" way, and in that sense helps to
promote an irrationalist contempt for quantitative information. But
qualitatively the problem is just as bad: the media might give you the
feeling that you are aware of what is happening around the world, whereas in
fact that is not really the case at all.


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