Monday, March 16, 2020

The ethics of counting

The coronavirus pandemic is being covered widely, deeply—and not always correctly. There've been plenty of instances of innumeracy and dubious visualizations, as Amanda Makulec said in an article about ethics and good practices. The other day I made some suggestions myself: never publish anything without consulting experts, for instance.

Happy coincidences, over the weekend I read the manuscript of a timely book that will come out in October this year. Its title is Counting: How We Use Numbers to Decide What Matters by Deborah Stone, a professor emerita at Brandeis University. If you follow this blog or liked How Charts Lie and The Truthful Art, you'll enjoy her book as well.

I've looked into Stone's previous work and found an intriguing article of hers, 'The Ethics of Counting', that anticipates some of the themes that appear in Counting. It's a transcript of her acceptance speech for the 2017 James Madison Award, and it's organized into five parts:
What does it mean to count?
How do numbers get their meaning?
How do numbers get their authority?
How can counting change hearts and minds?
Are there some things we shouldn’t count?
Don't miss it.