Trust in Numbers The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life

ISBN-10: 0691029083

ISBN-13: 9780691029085

Edition: 1997

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Description: This investigation of the overwhelming appeal of quantification in the modern world discusses the development of cultural meanings of objectivity over two centuries. How are we to account for the current prestige and power of quantitative methods? The usual answer is that quantification is seen as desirable in social and economic investigation as a result of its successes in the study of nature. Theodore Porter is not content with this. Why should the kind of success achieved in the study of stars, molecules, or cells be an attractive model for research on human societies? he asks. And, indeed, how should we understand the pervasiveness of quantification in the sciences of nature? 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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Book details

List price: $57.50
Copyright year: 1997
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 10/6/1996
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 324
Size: 6.34" wide x 9.17" long x 0.67" tall
Weight: 1.276
Language: English

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Cultures of Objectivity
Power in Numbers
A World of Artifice
How Social Numbers Are Made Valid
Economic Measurement and the Values of Science
The Political Philosophy of Quantification
Technologies of Trust
Experts against Objectivity: Accountants and Actuaries
French State Engineers and the Ambiguities of Technocracy
U.S. Army Engineers and the Rise of Cost-Benefit Analysis
Political and Scientific Communities
Objectivity and the Politics of Disciplines
Is Science Made by Communities?
Notes
Bibliography
Index
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