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Intellectual termite watch: Numbers are “social constructs”

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Image result for abacus public domainFrom Toni Airaksinen at Campus Reform:

In the postmodern tradition, Gillborn and his team also argue that racism can be reinforced through numbers because they are social constructs.

“Numbers are social constructs and likely to embody the dominant (racist) assumptions that shape contemporary society,” they write. As a consequence, they assert that “in many cases, numbers speak for White racial interests.”

Despite the purported danger of statistics being used to reinforce white privilege, they predict that if used properly, statistics can “expose and delegitimize the racist (and sexist, classist, hetero-normative, and ableist) assumptions, policies, and practices that are currently supported by the uncritical use of quantitative data.”More.

In short, statistics can useful if manipulated (“properly used”). Post-modernism, welcome to science!

The authors’ identified goal is fighting racism but one senses that, once their approach is accepted, it can serve any politically powerful cause. And cover over any number of abuses. and that’s what gives it such awesome destructive power.

See also: See also: The rigor mortis of science: The war on measurement itself has commenced


Nature: Stuck with a battle it dare not fight, even for the soul of science.

9 Replies to “Intellectual termite watch: Numbers are “social constructs”

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    The title of the post might be misinterpreted as saying something much more radical than what these, erm, “termites” actually are claiming.

    When they say “numbers are social constructs”, they do not mean that, for example, the numbers 1, 2, 3 are social constructs in themselves. Rather:

    quantitative data is often gathered and analyzed in ways that reflect the interests, assumptions, and perceptions of White elites

    I don’t think many will find that implausible. We see similar theses expressed here, where “White elites” has been replaced by other groups.

  2. 2
    polistra says:

    Statistics are nearly always destructive and counterscientific. If this sort of Antifa nonsense leads fashionable academics to avoid statistics, it will have a good result despite its evil intention.

  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    The authors’ identified goal is fighting racism but one senses that, once their approach is accepted, it can serve any politically powerful cause. And cover over any number of abuses. and that’s what gives it such awesome destructive power.


    In case you haven’t noticed, statistics have been abused for decades (the “lies, damn lies & statistics” comment goes back at least to the 1890s). At one level the numbers are objective, in the sense that what is calculated ill be the same, whoever does the maths. One the other hand they are very subjective: the choice of what data to use, what exactly to calculate, which numbers to calculate and how to interpret them are all subjective, to greater or lesser extents.

  4. 4
    LocalMinimum says:

    It is in the design and consideration of the data and methods that one should rule out/recognize the probability of bias; having a “QuantCrit” degreed political officer standing over your shoulder to cast the study in the “light” of cisgendered hetero white male conservative racism (a force that is becoming better recognized than gravity) independent from any mathematical basis isn’t exactly sound procedure. Or reliably sane.

  5. 5
    EricMH says:

    Statistical hypothesis testing was originally invented by RA Fisher to serve the purpose of eugenics, just like IBM got its start as number crunchers for Nazi racial cleansing, as did statistical IQ testing, so there is a bit of truth here. The professor is being a bit free with terminology, though, blaming “numbers” in general instead of biased research.

  6. 6
    Bob O'H says:

    I think Fisher actually developed his tests for field trials, of crops. I guess in some senses that’s eugenics.

  7. 7
    News says:

    You people are all talking like moderns!

    The post-modern war on numbers is about making them mean whatever we want them too.

    It won’t end well for students. But it will be great for useless adults who tumble into teaching subjects they can’t learn. Now they won’t need to learn anything, they will only need to provide models for aggrieved learned helplessness.

    A dream come true: They can teach a subject in which they are undoubted experts.

  8. 8
    Bob O'H says:

    News – this “war on numbers” has been going on for over a century. People use numbers to support their position, and will pick the number that does that, or emphasise numbers when they are good (but not when they are not). This is, I think, inevitable with humans.

    The good news is that help is at hand: statisticians are trained to understand these sorts of number, and can see when the wrong ones are used, or what biases there are in the numbers.

  9. 9
    Querius says:

    Gosh, what other social constructs exist that equally support the prevailing white, racist society?

    Law. Language. Ethics. Art. Music. Family. Just to name a few.

    Of course, these all need to be deconstructed, destroyed, and regenerated in a new environment devoid of any racist influence by . . . hmmm, who would that be?

    Oh yes, Gillborn and his team, of course! Under their masterful guidance, we can discover a new mathematics based on colors, a new form of language based on the intrinsic eloquence of facial expression and body language, a new form of law based on emotion, and so on.

    Why, with enough funding, the possibilities for a bold new world are practically limitless! Absolute genius!


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