Sense over Statistics

Sense over Statistics

Numbers are not nearly as important as logic

By: Arya Sureshbabu

Anyone who knows me even remotely well can readily tell you that my defining characteristic is neither my appearance nor my voice, nor even (dare I say it?) my grade point average. The one quality that sets me apart from anyone else that I’ve ever met (and likely will ever meet), is my over-the-top obsession with the French philosopher Voltaire. Although most of my friends will tell you that I read through this long dead poet’s writings with the same alacrity with which most of them read the Harry Potter series in elementary school, very few of them know how or why he came to be my idol. Before I hit eighth grade, I had scarcely heard of the man, but one passage in a friend’s history textbook about his ideas was enough to reel me in. You see, what I loved about Voltaire was not his biting wit or his brilliant satire, but the fact that he made his revolutionary points about the importance of freedom using the simplest yet most elegant of tools: logic.

Naturally, I began to henceforth associate genius with the relentless application of logic and reasoning which characterized the Enlightenment period in which Voltaire lived. To my mind, there was nothing more extraordinary than being able to come up with novel ideas on your own, using nothing more than your own experiences and the clever exercise of common sense to arrive a step closer to the truth of what lay before you.

However, I’ve noticed recently that logic has typically been shoved off of its pedestal in the academic world and has been replaced by a barrage of studies and statistics. Nowadays, when students set out on a venture to prove something or stand by their ideas, be it in a debate tournament or a QUEST paper, their words are deemed meaningless unless they are accompanied by just as many numbers. No matter how sound their reasoning is or how elegant their philosophical arguments may be, many students are being forced to simplify what could be magnificent and complicated ideas into nothing more than a list of percentages and ratios.

No, using statistics in argumentative writing is not inherently bad. If used properly—that is, as an appetizer rather than as the main course—the proper statistics can enhance or supplement claims which are based on pure, sound logic. But statistics should never stand alone, with no analysis or reasoning to back them up. And unfortunately, that appears to be where we are headed. As more and more teachers and administrators place pressure on students to show them the numbers, students are slowly beginning to focus more on the numbers than the overarching ideas. In other words, we are sacrificing our ability to use logic and to come up with innovative thoughts to instead pour out endless floods of figures and data. And if we let our definition of knowledge slip to mean a mere understanding of these numbers, we will lose the most precious capability of mankind—the capacity to think for ourselves.

But if we once again open up to the idea that there is something to be said for unadulterated logic and reasoning, we can once again view the world through a lens of wonder and revelation. So the next time you go off into the depths of the Internet and begin scouring databases for hours on end in search of some arcane statistic, take a moment to think beyond the number and piece together the bigger picture. You just may have the epiphany of your life.