The Story Of Measurement, by Andrew Robinson
I am not sure the extent to which the author is aware of it, but he engages in an awful lot of doublespeak and it makes this book less enjoyable than it would have been otherwise. In many ways, the author wants to have it both ways, having a high view of measurement and a high interest in how it is done (and in particular the relationship between measurement and authority) while also being critical of the way that measurement can be abused. The author seems unwilling to understand that in attacking the abuses of measurement and in commenting that it gives an illusion of objectivity, the does not necessarily realize the extent that insight holds when it comes to the use of measurements to counteract authorities he would prefer not to recognize, especially when it come to the Bible. That said, when this author is talking about measurement and not trying to get involved in larger cultural questions of authority and legitimacy, there are definitely some parts of this book that are easy enough to appreciate. I would have liked there to be more of them, but one takes what one can get when it comes to books like this one.
In a bit more than 200 pages the author provides a heavily illustrated work that contains three parts and ten chapters. The author begins with an introduction and then moves into the first part, the meaning of measuring. This part of the book contains four chapters on going metric (where the author shills for the metric system), numbers and mathematics (exploring bases, zero, infinity, and related concepts), customary units, instruments and techniques. The next part of the book discusses the measurement of creation, with chapters on atoms (including nanotechnology, radioactivity, volume and pressure, among other concepts), the earth (including the weather as well as a shrill discussion of reputed climate change), as well as the universe (including the motion of the planets, the sun, moon, and stars, black holes, and the big bang). The third part of the book discusses man as a measuring being, with chapters on the mind (including verse, meter, and scansion, the classification of books and libraries, tools, and IQ), the body (including alcohol content and calorie counts), and society (including truth detection, identification, economics, and even collective nouns), after which the author closes the book with an epilogue, suggestions for further reading, illustration credits, and an index.
The reasons as to why mankind likes to measure are straightforward enough. That which can be measured can, in the eyes of people, be understood. And that which we think we understand we will make some matter of policy. Does it matter that climate models are deeply flawed because they are predictive and are not based on a proper understanding of the earth? Not to those who wish to shape policy by what those models say. Does it matter that BMI numbers are skewed against those who are taller, meaning that the higher someone’s height (and muscle mass), the more one is prone to be viewed as overweight or obese in such calculations? Not to those who wish to increase panic as well as control over diet in a given society. Of course, the author is wise enough to recognize that data and measurement can be abused, but not enough to recognize how pervasive that abuse is, and how that abuse is something that is often cheered on because it gives human beings the illusion of understanding what we glimpse only in part and only in a somewhat reduced and simplified form that we think is enough to understand the whole.
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