Posted on July 10, 2011
What is the Counting Animals site about?
It is a blog that aims to collect, generate, analyze, organize, present and interpret quantitative information related to the animal advocacy movement. Occasionally, it will employ tools and insights from computer science and mathematics to discover facts pertinent to the animal advocacy movement. From time to time, it may also make number-related nerdy observations of no use to anybody.
By the way, here is an interview about Counting Animals by Erin O’Sullivan of Animal Voices which aired on the CIUT radio station based in Toronto, Canada, on Tuesday, June 10, 2014.
How does quantitative data help anyone?
Numbers have a way of cutting through hype, myths and dogmas whether generated by elements within the animal advocacy movement or promoted by the opponents of the movement. Well-sourced quantitative information has a role to play in building convincing arguments, producing dependable literature, choosing effective forms of activism and promoting a credible image of the movement in the public sphere. For example, numbers alone may not persuade an individual to cause less animal suffering but they can guide an animal advocacy organization in developing effective strategies to persuade individuals to cause less animal suffering.
What do you mean by the animal advocacy movement?
I am using the term ‘animal advocacy’ broadly to include everything that may be described by people as animal welfare, animal protection, animal liberation or animal rights.
Is your blog a neutral look at the animal advocacy movement? Or, does it have a point of view?
It has a point of view.
But, data is data and bias cannot change well-sourced quantitative data. So, your blog cannot be said to have a bias or a point of view.
Not really. A collection of data is almost always biased by the means used to collect, filter, and organize it even before it is presented and interpreted. For example, in my post on vegan and vegetarian book titles, I made the decision to not count as books research reports that each cost $795. I decided to not count bound volumes of magazines. In my mind, these are not what people normally mean when they use the term ‘book’. However, someone else with a different set of prejudices about what counts as a book may have decided differently. So, there is usually bias in any collection of data. No interpretation of data can be entirely relied upon without understanding the bias behind the data.
How can anybody avoid such bias?
You cannot avoid bias in data but you can do your best to be aware of it. There are prejudices you know you have, there are prejudices you know you don’t have and there are prejudices you don’t know you have (thank you, Rummy!). Each post in this blog will declare all the prejudices I know I have when I present the data in the post (for example, about what I count as a book). My hope is that the readers of this blog will enlighten me on the prejudices I do not know I have.
Now, about what is on the site. Is there a pattern to the numbers on the banner of the web site?
I love the quote you have at the bottom on the left side of the blog. It is a strange quote on a blog that declares a love of numbers.
Yes, because there is a limit to how much numbers can help us understand things we want to understand. Quantification can sometimes oversimplify complex pieces of information in ways that can be misleading. The quote is a caution against over-interpreting quantitative data.
So, I can see why, not everything that can be counted counts. But, what is an example of something that counts but cannot be counted?
I have the help of my best friend, Denise, in more ways than I know how to count.
Is there a way you can be reached?
I can be reached at CountingAnimals..