Dr Owen Churches on using Maths to Understand People

Make Me Data Literate
Make Me Data Literate
Dr Owen Churches on using Maths to Understand People
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A fascinating conversation with Government Statistician Dr Owen Churches. How government data collection can shape policy and change our understanding of the world.

“All government data is the result of definitions. By which I mean when we say ‘this is the number of students at this school’, this isn’t a natural, self-evident process by which we count. And this is a crazy confronting thought process.
The way we learnt to count is great for doing maths, but really bad for doing counting of real things in the world, because most real things, and especially people, aren’t mutable. One person here doesn’t equal the same as one person over there.”

“Statisticians and Government data in general aren’t just passive aggregators, but having these active processes that, because they’ve defined things in particular ways, the rest of the system then needs to acquiesce and fall into line.”

“It’s worth spending time thinking about the problems, and struggling with them a little bit. The closer you get to the data, the less clear things should be.”

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