Asylum numbers, in my view, were a notable early form of big data. Historical and social research on data and statistics has become by now a flourishing international enterprise. When I was a graduate student, it was just beginning.
Literatur:Porter Trust in Numbers 1995
There I emphasize that effective quantification is never a matter simply of discovery, but always also of administration, hence of social and technological power. Quantitative objectivity is in a way a form of standardization, the use of rules to confine and tame the personal and subjective. Science did not always idealize this mechanical form of objectivity, but has come to do so at least in its rhetoric as an adaptation to modern political and administrative cultures—which it at the same time has helped to shape. In both of these books I invert the usual account of the relations between natural and social science by showing how some of the crucial assumptions and methods of science arose within contexts of application.
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The history of quantification is the history of a social technology, reflecting a sensibility that is as closely linked to fields like accounting and cost-benefit analysis and to social science as to physics. The ethic of systematic calculation as a basis for social decisions—and often, as in inferential statistics, also for scientific demonstration—responds to a political culture marked by distrust of elites and even, in a way, of experts. This is our pioneering effort to provide a synthetic history of social science since the eighteenth century, in relation to each other and to the sciences of nature.
The volume tells a story not of detached knowledge, but of tools, theories, and images that have helped to create the modern world. It is, however, my least-loved book. Nobody seems to want a pioneering statistician, much less a famous eugenicist, to behave like this.
Pearson, in defiance of our expectations, was ever in revolt against the confines of this and every other professional identity. The subject of this fascinating study is the ever growing authority and prestige of quantitative methods in the natural and social sciences and in public life. Porter approaches this topic as a historian of science; he seeks to understand it as a social and political phenomenon. Like Kuhn, he sees science and other forms of knowledge as made by communities. However, he stresses that scientific and professional communities are seldom autonomous.
They are subject to outside scrutiny and criticism. This is a particularly important source of the pressure to quantify.
Questions & Debates in the History of Statistics, Counting, and Quantification | Cindy A. Nguyen
The language of mathematics, he argues, is well suited to embody objective judgements in this sense. It employs highly structured and agreed rules which all but exclude personal idiosyncrasy and subjective judgement. It is adopted when claims to knowledge need to gain trust and credibility beyond the bounds of locality and community, whether the community in question is social, professional or scientific.
To substantiate and illustrate this thesis, Porter presents a wide range of cases drawn from many different areas. He begins with an account of the development of physical weights and measures.
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It is now difficult to imagine that there could be substantial disagreement about what constitutes a pound of flour or a hectare of land. It involved not just the creation of standardized units of measurement but also the imposition of regular and uniform social practices. Uniformity in nature in practice is a triumph of human organization.
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The wheat trade provide a vivid illustration. The quality of wheat varies from farm to farm. In earlier times, a grain merchant had to inspect samples personally to assess what he was buying. With the coming of the railway to the American Midwest, grain was handled in huge quantities, making such personal judgement impossible.
In his view, we should look in the reverse direction: comprehending the attractions of quantification in business, government, and social research will teach us something new about its role in psychology, physics, and medicine. Drawing on a wide range of examples from the laboratory and from the worlds of accounting, insurance, cost-benefit analysis, and civil engineering, Porter shows that it is "exactly wrong" to interpret the drive for quantitative rigor as inherent somehow in the activity of science except where political and social pressures force compromise.
Instead, quantification grows from attempts to develop a strategy of impersonality in response to pressures from outside. Objectivity derives its impetus from cultural contexts, quantification becoming most important where elites are weak, where private negotiation is suspect, and where trust is in short supply.
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