What do people do when they count? What do numbers really mean? We all know that people can lie with statistics, but political scientist Deborah Stone uncovers a much deeper problem. With help from Dr. Seuss and Cookie Monster, she explains why numbers can't be objective: in order to count, one must first decide what counts.
It is a curious experience to agree with the conclusion of a book but not its argument ... Stone shows how being in thrall to numbers is misguided and dangerous, that they can often hide injustice and that we should examine and question the mechanisms through which we arrive at figures and statistics that we consider to be authoritative ... I take issue with the way she characterizes math, and this is where I disagree with her analysis, and I do so as a mathematician who sees the power of numbers and also their limitations ... the book’s argument ends up doing a disservice to mathematics. I worry that it inadvertently provides some support to people who don’t believe that science and logic can be used to tell us anything about reality, who cling to the idea that science is flawed in order to justify their own pet conspiracy theories ... For readers who think that math is simply about arriving at correct answers, these nuances may well pass them by. We shouldn’t overstate the power of math and science, but we shouldn’t understate it either. While I don’t think Stone herself risks throwing out the baby with the bath water, I worry that she is giving others an excuse to do so.
Stone distills a wealth of thinking about statistics and their psychological and social foundations into lucid, engaging prose, illustrated with piquant graphics and cartoons ... this is a stimulating layperson’s guide to the pseudo-mathematical rationalizations behind so much of what governments do.