Never before have we attempted to measure as much as we do today. Why are we so obsessed with numbers? What can they really tell us?
Too often we try to quantify what can’t actually be measured. We count people, but not individuals. We count exam results rather than intelligence, benefit claimants instead of poverty. The government has set itself 10,000 new targets. Politicians pack their speeches with skewed statistics: crime rates are either rising or falling depending on who is doing the counting.
We are in a world in which everything designed only to be measured. If it can’t be measured it can be ignored.
But the big problem is what numbers don’t tell you. They won’t interpret. They won’t inspire, and they won’t tell you precisely what causes what.
In this passionately argued and thought-provoking book, David Boyle examines our obsession with numbers. He reminds us of the danger of taking numbers so seriously at the expense of what is non-measurable, non-calculable: intuition, creativity, imagination, happiness…
Counting is a vital human skill. Yardsticks are a vital tool. As long as we remember how limiting they are if we cling to them too closely.
Americans who claim to have been abducted by aliens = 3.7 million
Average time spent by British people in traffic jams every year = 11 days
Number of Americans shot by children under six between 1983 and 1993 = 138, 490