Counting is hard

Counting is hard.

As the Sorting Things Out discusses, counting requires classification, which is often highly nontrivial and affected by all kinds of biases and issues.

For instance, at the early stage of the COVID 19 pandemic, there was no reliable way to track COVID-19 cases. Because doctors cannot assign COVID 19 to a patient without a test, and because tests were not widely available, many COVID-19 cases were simply not acknowledged and thus the cases were heavily underestimated2. The death data is more reliable and thus used as a good, but it’s a delayed proxy1 and its accuracy to estimate the number of cases largely depends on the accurate estimatation of the Infection fatality rate, which is also very difficult.

Martin2009counting points out the difficulties and political nature of counting. Richardson2019dirty examines the case of police data.

Counting can be also powerful, when done with what is difficult to count.

Garvey2010nineteenth century recounts the work of abolitionists in the American Civil War, who aggregated information about slaves from newspapers to reveal horrible statistics of slavery.