The Quantification of Everything

It is worth pointing out as well that this process of quantification extends well beyond just clinical research. It is pervasive in modern life. We quantify the quality of movies, food, schools, universities. When I work with residents and medical students, I quantify their performance. And not just their skill or knowledge, but many deeply subjective qualities.  Here is a section from the performance evaluation used to evaluate my residents.  In addition to quantifying their technical skills etc, you can see that in involves quantifying such subjective characteristics as honesty, integrity, Respect, empathy etc. 


We quantify almost everything. If I were giving this as a lecture or presentation at rounds, you would likely be asked to quantify the quality of my presentation with a form similar to this one.


A few years ago I was listening to the radio and heard an interview with a fellow named Woodson Merrell, who is the chair of the department of Integrative Medicine at the Beth Israel Medical Centre, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  He was talking about his program of integrative health and said the following: “There’s evidence now that people who live a more connected life, live a longer and more fulfilled life”.  This sort of line usually just washes over us blithely as we’re driving our kids around. But stop and take a moment to think about what he said. He was saying, in effect, that we have quantified “connectedness” and “fulfillment in life”.  Regardless whether you agree with Dr. Merrell that “connectedness” leads to greater “fulfillment in life”, it is noteworthy that we can purportedly measure these experiences in quantitative terms.


We should be clear that quantification serves different roles in society. When we say that a film is a 4 out of 5, we really do not mean it as a measurement in the same way we do  when we say someone’s quality of life is a 4 out of 5.  The nuances of quantification can become quite complicated.  But that is not a topic we need to pursue further now.