Why Quantify Everything

There are a great many reasons why we quantify things in medicine and life. 

  1. It allows us to measure things numerically and perform mathematical manipulation of the results
  2. It (appears to) provide a common standard, when comparing different institutions and countries
  3. It provides a sense of objectivity
  4. It provides a sense of certainty
  5. It lends credibility to the research
  6. If you want to get money for any project, you need to show quantitative data
  7. If you want to implement policy or other change, you need to show quantitative data
  8. It legitimizes opinions and beliefs
  9. We’ve gotten used to it. 

Undoubtedly there are additional reasons why we quantify medicine and life. And one can parse these reasons even finer. 

As I mentioned in the section dealing with the proliferation of the phrase “evidence-based” there is an increasing tendency to feel the need to provide evidentiary justification for beliefs and opinions.  The phrase “evidence-based” is essentially synonymous with “quantified data”. And this lends legitimacy and credibility to one’s views And when a book appears such as “Evidence-Based Horsemanship”, it is essentially saying that there is quantified data discussed.

As I mentioned above, I think one of the major reasons why we quantify so much of our lives is because we’ve just gotten used to it. It has become the norm, in many ways.  If you are a politician and not sure what your constituency thinks on a given topic, you attempt to quantify their opinions, to better gauge your approach. Whether this is what we want in our leaders is a different question. But it is definitely the way of modern politics. 

The question however remains.  Just what exactly is this data?  How good is it?  How reliable?  What exactly does it measure. How does it reflect the phenomena it is apparently measuring?