The World in Numbers

Nothing spells objectivity like numbers – if you can make your case in numbers it becomes something greater than your personal view, it becomes fact. The idea that facts are neutral is very strong in the internet sphere, search engines provide information without prejudice, content is measured in quantity rather than quality. Some say the internet age is the end of experts and the rise of the “wisdom of crowds”, others will tell you that this means the death of truth and a world where all information is equal, true or not. No bias. An example with epistemologic consequence is Wikipedia, which seeks a “neutral” description through consensus or balance of opinions – this can be regarded as part of a long philosophical argument on the definition of truth and knowledge dating back to thinkers such as Socrates and Zeno.

Today, I came across Worldometers, which presents numbers on a range of indicators – from the number of people in the world to money spent on video games in one day. Counters increase or decrease depending on how our world changes, obviously an abstraction based on a combination of ambitious research and educated guesses. It’s both fun and thought-provoking to consider things like barrels of oil pumped today, compared to the amount of solar energy the Earth has received in the same time. But of course this can never be an objective selection of facts and numbers. It has a clear leaning toward Left and Green ideologies, whereas a Conservative would likely find many numbers on economic development missing for example. Makes me think of how the far-right wing often excels in producing numbers indicating that immigration is harmful. Each number may be correct in itself, but taken out of context they can be misleading. Now, don’t get me wrong – I like Worldometers and it has nothing in common with the far right. It’s just a great example of how numbers make everything look so much better.

Facts can sometimes be neutral, but the selection is always biased.