Almost all through, I have wondered as to exactly what I learned at IIML. Yeah, yeah – despite being topper and all, the regular readers of this blog are aware of my disillusions. But there is one very important thing that I have learnt. The respect for numbers.
Before you stereotype this statement of mine into “that’s what they teach at B-Schools anyway – the number crunching” please read on.
I do not use the phrase “respect for numbers” to mean “number-crunching abilities”. While I did learn that at IIML, couple of courses in statistics at IITK might have taught that to me much better. What I mean by “respect for numbers” is different. There are two aspects to this respect:
- Ensuring that relevance of using “numbers” (data) in a particular context
- Ensuring the authenticity of the data, which may include
- Ensuring that the source is a credible one
- Ensuring that the methodology to arrive at those numbers is acceptable (Even the most credible sources are likely to use terribly simplistic methodology). For example if there is index that is being reported, the variables included are exhaustive enough so as not to create a bias and that the index is a fairly representative one of all those variables
A more exhaustive list can be drawn of what else it should include. But this should give you a fair idea of what I am saying when I say “respect for numbers”. Now, there are several diversions one can take from here, for example
These are the kind of diversions I shall be avoiding here. Yes, the criteria are subjective, but even then some basic idea gets conveyed, which are not very difficult to practise while using numbers. Further I am assuming that there is a situation in which people have decided to use number to put forth the arguments.
- Aren’t all these criteria listed above, by themselves, so subjective that the respectability of numbers can very easily be questioned?
- Do numbers ever make any sense? Can the complexities of human life and human civilization ever be reduced to a set of numbers? Can the arguments be put forward and policies be made based on numbers?
And you know what difference the two years at IIML have made to me. Now, I really feel appalled at the way the numbers are misquoted by people, and rather blatantly in public, without ever giving a thought over the idea that numbers deserve some respect. And very few people have mind to question those numbers. Probably that’s why they are misused like that in the first place.
No prizes for guessing what has been the recent-most issue, which has appalled me with the disrespect for numbers by people. Of course, the reservations for OBCs. Whether numbers provide a justification for reservation is different thing altogether and I have expressed my views on that earlier. So, I am not getting into that. What I am talking about here is the rate at which anyone, yeah – just any Tom, Dick, Harry keeps throwing numbers at you regarding the population percentage and socio-economic conditions etc. of OBCs (and SCs/STs). It has simply been ridiculous. You just have to recall all those pro-reservation (and some ridiculous anti-reservation) articles, written by people with no respect whatsoever for numbers. They do not hesitate in putting on any number they like (which supposedly strengthens their argument) without ever caring to mention what the source of the numbers was, or what the methodology was that these “number genuises” have adopted to arrive at them!! Rashmi Bansal had done a good job, when she pointed out some of the fallacies about the number floating around. Yesterday I received a link in my mail, which had given some more credible numbers than any other pointed out till now – with sources and all. And that was some relief.
Actually this article was what triggered this post. And I also recall a mail on one of the IITK related yahoogroups, where some supposedly “neutral” pro-reservation person had thrown in some data, which were obviously falsifiable with very easily available source – Census of India. Even after the non-sense being exposed, the person never cared to accept his mistake.
Anyway. Next time you throw in numbers at someone, please think of having some respect for them. Do not create those numbers from nowhere (or your fancies). And at the same time, when a number is being thrown at you, before believing it, please ensure the authenticity.
Numbers deserve some respect.