We can continue doing things the way we’ve always done them. We don’t have to change. The saddest part about this line of thought is this is not just the voice of journalism. You hear this thing inside academia all the time. It (meaning the computer or sometimes just numbers) can’t tell you what I already know. Indeed, the “we already knew that” meme is one of the most powerful ways of dismissing any attempt at trying to bring together quantitative and qualitative approaches to thinking about the history of ideas.
As an inevitable backlash to its seeming ubiquity in everyday life, quantification today is tarnished with a host of evils. It is seen as a source of intellectual isolation (when academics use numbers they are alienating themselves from the public); a moral danger (when academics use numbers to understand things that shouldn’t be quantified they threaten to undo what matters most); and finally, quantification is just irrelevant. We already know all there is to know about culture, so don’t even bother.
I hope one day this will all pass and we’ll see the benefits of not thinking about these issues in such either/or ways, like the visionary secretary of Jules Verne’s imaginary “Baltimore Gun Club,” who cries, “Would you like figures? I will give you some eloquent ones!” In the future, I hope there will be a new wave of intellectualism that insists on conjoining these two forms of thought, the numerical and the literal, figures and eloquence. It seems so much more human.
Andrew Piper, The New Anti-Intellectualism. A welcome challenge and warning to those of us who get frustrated with the grandiose claims of naive quantification. It’s all too easy to err in the opposite direction.