Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Does it count?

Is measurement, numbers, taking over our lives?

The humanist in me is tickled that the design of, say, sailboats, is done using mathematics.

Surely university scholars are safe? 
*statistical analysis of texts to find word patterns to help identify anonymous authors
*a database that ranks scholars by the number of times their article has been cited

My physician likes to describe the nuances of his patients symptoms on his reports, he told me, but he added that his boss wants him using specific diagnosis codes ---numbers--- instead. So much for nuance. Easier for billing, perhaps, easier for epidemiology perhaps, but less human. 

I stopped going to a confidential support group in part because of the new rule that everyone had to sign in. So much for confidentiality. I'm told that this decision was made because the institution gets its funding based on ----the number of people who attend. In some support groups, that will scare people away. 

Is it a "sign" of the "times" that even the romantic places of libraries often now use statistical "tests of collection strength"? 
(One joke: if a math book is a book about math, is a library book a book about libraries? Just asking)

Then there's the danger of computers doing financial trading ---flash trading--- the owning of a stock for seconds, literally less than a minute, to make a profit. 

What happened to the craftsman who designed the boat by how he felt, the librarian who bought the books that felt right, buying stocks because you feel they will go up? 

What are we losing? 
Are we becoming numb-er? (That joke is from the delightfully thoughtful book Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, but all the other jokes, such as they are, are mine. The context in which I am using his joke is also different: the trends I  describe are not his focus in that book and, in any case,  have advanced since his book. Hopefully that does not "mean" that we are numb-er to them). 

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