Number Facts & Number Fictions

Excerpt from:  Real Statistics (3/4) Statistics as Rhetoric 

{Preliminary material explains that conventional approach statistics separates theory and application — the job of ths statistician is to analyze numbers – without knowing where the come from. The job of the Field Expert is to use objective statistical analysis of numbers to get better understanding of the realities which generate the numbers. In “Real Statistics”, we assert that these two tasks cannot be separated. Theory must always be studied within the context of real world application. Also, real world phenomena cannot be understood without application of theory}}

So the statistician must always analyze numbers in the context of the real world phenomena which generated the numbers. See  My Journey from Theory to Reality  for more details about this argument. The Islamic approach rejects the idea that numbers are objective measures of reality. As we will see, most numbers being analyzed involve subjective judgments. We take the point of view that Statistics is a branch of rhetoric. We need to learn how to make ARGUMENTS with numbers.

The key rhetorical strategy of conventional statistics is hiding of the subjective elements of a statistical analysis. Both the data being analyzed, and methods of analysis, involve HUGE numbers of Subjective Assumptions. Conventional statistical analysis pretends that numbers, and analysis, is objective and factual, no room is left for arguments and persuasion. In this course, we will bring out the hidden value judgments, so that different perspectives can be explored, in light of different values, while having the same set of numerical measurements.

The key insight here is that most numbers are MADE UP, and involve HUGE numbers of subjective judgments. There are TWO types of Numbers – Facts and Fictions. The factual and objective numbers are about the External Reality. For example, Number of trees in forest, Number of people in Pakistan, Rupee Income of People in Pakistan, Prices of different goods in different places, the Quantity of Carpets produced for export. These can all be counted by numbers, and the numbers actually count something which is present in external reality, and therefore is objective.

However most numbers which enter statistical analysis, especially in the context of economics are number fictions, not number facts. These numbers are computed using subjective decisions which represent values, but these are hidden in the analysis. Instead the numbers are presented as if they are just like number facts, and hence objective measures of external reality, to which all observers would agree. Here are some examples of numbers which are fictional: IQ of a person, Wealth of Pakistan, Value of the Rupee in terms of purchasing power, Inflation Rate, Quality of Universities, Quality of Research produced by a faculty. Since this point is never made in conventional statistical texts, which treat all numbers alike, we will explain further why these numbers are fictional, not factual.

Why is IQ a Fictional Number? {… to read more, see:  Real Statistics (3/4) Statistics as Rhetoric  … }

See also, related post on Beyond Numbers and Material Rewards

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