Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Two Components for Understanding Society: Personal Experience & Global Statistics

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Nature of Science, Science & Society, Data

Ed Hessler

"It’s tempting to believe that we can simply rely on personal experience to develop our understanding of the world. But that’s a mistake. The world is large, and we can experience only very little of it personally. To see what the world is like, we need to rely on other means: carefully-collected global statistics." -- Max Roser, Our World In Data, July 27, 2023

The epigraph is from the essay, The Limits of Personal Experience and the Value of Statistics, Max Roser discusses the formation of a world view, especially the one on learning about society and how it works. He argues that we need both personal interactions "and how valuable statistics are in helping us build the rest of the picture." The essay uses several easy to understand -  beautiful in their conception -  to illustrate his points. The sections of his essay discuss and illustrate a few main points.

--The horizon of our personal experience.

--How wide can the horizon of our personal experience be?

--The fragmented perspective of the news media: some spotlights on particular people, but much of the world is left in darkness.

--What is missing: everyone else — for this, we need global data.

--The perspective that global statistics offer.

--No data is perfect.

--A statistical understanding of the world needs to become much more central to our culture.

In closing he explains how this relates to the mission of the organization, Our World In Data. I’ve focused on our global understanding, but the same is true at smaller scales. To see what our own country, our own city, is like, we need statistics. These statistics exist, but they are often neither accessible nor understandable. They are buried in spreadsheets, hidden behind paywalls, and presented in academic jargon. Our mission at Our World in Data is to change this and make the statistics that are needed to understand our society accessible and understandable for everyone. → Read more about the mission.

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