Pam Tönissen, Sijbrand de Jong, Alan Irwin en Noelle Aarts - Foto This Meeuwisse
Pam Tönissen, Sijbrand de Jong, Alan Irwin en Noelle Aarts - Foto This Meeuwisse

Statistics Rule | Lecture and conversation with Alan Irwin

Debates and decisions on major problems are often based on percentages, figures and numbers. But how much do we actually understand and know about the numbers we base our decisions on? Why do we find numbers so important when they often fail to resolve issues? Isn’t it more important to investigate the values behind different points of view instead of presenting alternative statistics?

During his lecture on 13 April, Alan Irwin, a scholar of organization, explained how complicated the relationship with statistics, and the world behind the numbers is.

About the speaker

Alan Irwin is a Professor in the Department of Organization at Copenhagen Business School. He has published on issues of science and technology policy, scientific governance, environmental sociology and science-public relations. His current research focuses on research and innovation policy.

Debating about the statistics

Politicians, policymakers and citizens are constantly invited to base their discussions and decisions on percentages, figures and numbers. Whether it concerns the nitrogen crisis, climate change, decisions about our asylum policy or the consequences of inflation, statistics are quickly used to substantiate different points of view. They even often direct the kind of innovation we pursue. After all, statistics equal hard facts, right?

At the same time, it is easy to question your opponent’s point of view by questioning the numbers behind it, or by presenting alternative figures. In this way, we can get bogged down in a discussion about the stats, instead of talking about the values behind different points of view.

Numbers as mirrors

Statistics are often viewed as objective truths. But statistics never exist in a vacuum and are to a degree reflections of one’s worldview. Which statistics you think are relevant will be influenced by what you find important. In a sense, numbers can be seen as mirrors.


Contact information

Organizational unit
Institute for Science in Society
Philosophy, Science