Our touching faith in numbers

How our faith in data leads us astray

We are infatuated with data and quantitative methods, preferring decision by calculation over human wisdom, even when data is unreliable and a product of our models. 25 years on since the first edition of his foundational work on the rise of ‘data-driven decision making’ in public life, ‘Trust in Numbers’,  Theodore M. Porter picks up the case.

Americans, at least, are caught up now in an epidemic of politicized deceit, extending to untruths so glaring that any effort at reasoned refutation seems pointless.  The poster child for this mode of talk is (at least for the moment) our president.  How can an educated populace care so little for what to most decently educated people appears as settled knowledge? 

Ordinary citizens are likely to receive basic instruction on the pursuit of knowledge in pre-college science classes, typically as rules of "scientific method." Philosophers and social scientists who write on science are mo

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