By Kip Hansen – Re-Blogged From http://www.WattsUpWithThat.com
WARNING: This is not a technical essay. There is almost no science in it. It is not about AGW or any issue involved in the Climate Wars. My editor describes it as “chatty”. It does ask two extremely important questions.
We are all constantly bombarded by numbers….in the press, on the radio news, on the TV news, here at WUWT. Numbers as sheer numbers, numbers as graphs, charts, images, and in words and more words. Putting a number with an idea has a magical power over our minds – it makes the idea ‘more true’ – it offers to our minds a sort of proof for ideas and concepts.
In this essay, I look at an important question, one we must all ask – ask ourselves and ask the sources of these numbers – What exactly are they really counting? In our little introductory image (cute, huh?) we see they are counting “counting bears”. 1 bear, two bears. But, what exactly? In the upper panels, they are counting green plastic counting bears. Their count = 1 (and in words – one). In the bottom panels, they are still counting plastic counting bears, but one red bear and one blue bear, or 2 (in words – two) bears altogether. Even more exactly though, the bottom panels have one red bear, one blue bear and zero green bears.
This is not just being fussy. When we have only the information in the top panels, we count one bear (and maybe note that it is green). As far as we know, all bears in this context are the same color, and color doesn’t matter. If these were real seal-eating/fish-eating bears, some might be white, some brown, some grizzled, some a cross-breed mixture. For biologists, the difference is important – refer to the Polar Bear Wars. For a camper on the tundra, one very hungry bear, possibly man-eating, is more than enough, regardless of color.
For this kindergarten example, we see that even in the most elementary types of counting , there are details that may need to be explored and explained.
Just to be clear, all measurement is the same as counting in this regard.
meas·ure ‘meZHər/ verb to ascertain the size, amount, or degree of (something) by using an instrument or device marked in standard units or by comparing it with an object of known size. “the amount of water collected is measured in pints” some synonyms: count, calculate, compute, quantify