In the latest entry on the FRINGE Centre blog, Tomáš Cvrček of UCL SSEES considers statistics and their shortcomings.
Breaking somewhat with the run of blog posts on big intellectual words, here is an entry about statistics, a mundane yawn of a word that starts with S. Where does the letter “S” come in the word “FRINGE”? It does not, although it could perhaps be appended at the end, making it plural. There are many ways in which things can stand on the fringe and one of them is the frontier of measurability. In line with the other themes in the acronym – such as invisibility, elusiveness and grey zones – the letter S can then stand for things that are somewhat in the statistical shadow, out of the gaze of the data collector.
To open with a confession, I think that data, numbers and statistics are a wonderful thing. They can tell us a great deal about lots of things that people are doing. When used properly, they can help one distinguish what is random and what is systematic. At the same time, as primary sources on various social phenomena, data have their limitations but that does not make them useless – rather, the limitations themselves are interesting.