padThe Sum of Our Discontent Why Numbers Make Us Irrational

by David Boyle

Looking at the 2000 presidential election as an example of the influence that numbers have over our lives, Boyle concludes that the overuse of numbers is making them ineffectual. The current practice of measuring everything-votes, insurance risks, workforce percentages, health statistics-has created a distance between the number and its meaning that allows for misunderstanding, Boyle says. The magic of numbers is lost. Measuring everything reduces everything. Because real life isn't still and yet "things have to be static if you're going to count them," Boyle contends that statistics "will not capture the essence of the question they are asking." The author reflects on people such as Jeremy Bentham and Robert Malthus, who were motivated to improve the world by measuring happiness and morality, respectively. In the end, they were left with just a bunch of numbers.

Texere, 2001, 200 p., hardcover

Sum of Our Discontent, The
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