Magazine article New Internationalist

[The Tyranny of Numbers: Why Counting Can't Make Us Happy]

Magazine article New Internationalist

[The Tyranny of Numbers: Why Counting Can't Make Us Happy]

Article excerpt

* * * = GOOD

by David Boyle

(HarperCollins, ISBN 0 00 257157 9)

We are drowning in numbers, overwhelmed by statistics, targets and performance league tables. In government, education, health, science and finance, the bean-counters reign supreme. As this timely book says, we are in danger of forgetting just how limited numbers are and what they can and cannot do. In our fascination with counting, we lose sight of things that are not measurable. Spontaneity, imagination and joy are not susceptible to the Gradgrind mentality.

In an entertaining potted history of number-crunching - key players being Jeremy Bentham, Edwin Chadwick and John Maynard Keynes - David Boyle argues that the Victorians started the rot, with their mania for purposeless classification. The philanthropist Charles Booth was typical. After 17 years collecting statistics on the London poor and 17 volumes of information, he admitted that he had merely measured the effects of poverty and had no idea of the causes. …

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