Making Things Countable (or Knowing When They Aren't)

I just read Scott Weingart’s wonderful write-up “What’s Counted Counts” responding to the issues and problems of using data to tackle social problems. The posting comes from his reflection on what it means to measure, and the problems of what counts and how things are measured and measurable. The post is great, highly-recommended reading for everyone for considering how we think about, create, and use data for analysis, and what’s possible and the limits of data. The posting is especially relevant in thinking about metrology and metrosophy (the science and philosophy of measurement/standards, how do we make and use standards and what do they do for us and to us?), with a fabulous resource for folks interested in these questions being Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences by Geoffrey C. Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, which importantly covers the ability to use standards and classification to uplift or oppress by making things invisible or as countable. Scott Weingart’s post speaks to the inherent issues with using data, and the limits of data. I would nuance one part of what he says in that his post (in my reading, or perhaps misreading) seems to state that counting sex/gender representation is easy. I would nuance to state that it isn’t easy, just somewhat possible, with so many other things being invisible or too complicated to try to count. The work to count things and to make things visible through counting, including the full process of counting and the limits of the data, countability, and counting itself are critically important practices and processes for data research. Weingart’s post opens into the complexity of these concerns in a way that makes things more visible for future action, including for making things countable or for approaches that take into account when things aren’t (and maybe won’t be) countable. This is far from easy, and it works towards a culture of awareness for tackling the even harder work of figuring out when and how to make other things visible, countable, and actionable for concerns like equity. Thanks to Scott Weingart for a great post that should inspire lots of great discussion and future action!

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