As number crunching continues to influence everything from Netflix programming decisions to the location of drone strikes to vehicle safety to our understanding of flu activity, we should be mindful of how we let mathematical analysis influence our lives. Reducing a complex environment to a handful of performance indicators can be particularly troublesome. See Seth Godin’s thoughts on false metrics, what to obsess over, the proxy trap and measurement.
“By reducing life to numbers we can identify a variable, change it and test whether the world is a better place…anything that can be quantified, will be quantified. Unfortunately, anything that can’t be quantified becomes brushed over and ignored.” –Neil Scott
When taken to extremes, the broader trend in modern society to place a higher value on numerical (objective) measurements than verbal (subjective) evidence becomes mathematical intimidation. And further to Campbell’s Law: The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to measure.
“Our teachers’ best qualities – their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals – are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren’t measurable.” –Tim Callahan, Professional Association of Georgia Educators
Look beyond formulas, recognize that hard choices are not always quantifiable, and remember that instincts and feelings can be as critical as the numbers. And for trivia purposes, the statistical value of life is currently around $7m.