One of my academic advisors used to say that any argument without numbers is a religious one. And we all know how productive they are.
Being a numbers jock and P-Chemist, that statement resonated with me. It still does.
But then I went into business, and for a while my job involved the quantitative prediction of consumer behavior. Entering into the social sciences like that, where there is no ideological bias, just a financial incentive to get the model right, was good for me. It trained me to look at the instrument that was used to derive the numbers. To ask if the questioner was asking the right questions.
So my brain perked up when I saw this article on the decline of newspapers:
Big whoop. After several statistical triple back-flips, we now know that 96 percent of newspaper reading is done in the printed product. That’s like talking about modern transportation by pointing out that 96 percent of buggy drivers use buggy whips. Hello? We switched to cars 100 years ago.
Writing on the Nieman Journalism Lab Web site, Martin Langveld made some valid statistical conclusions about newspaper readership. The problem is that he was asking the wrong questions. It isn’t about newspapers; it’s about news.