1st Edition

Number Savvy From the Invention of Numbers to the Future of Data

By George Sciadas Copyright 2023
    312 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Chapman & Hall

    312 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Chapman & Hall

    312 Pages 28 B/W Illustrations
    by Chapman & Hall

    This book is written for the love of numbers. It tells their story, shows how they were invented and used to quantify our world, and explains what quantitative data mean for our lives. It aspires to contribute to overall numeracy through a tour de force presentation of the production, use, and evolution of data.

    Understanding our physical world, our economies, and our societies through quantification has been a persistent feature of human evolution. This book starts with a narrative on why and how our ancestors were driven to the invention of number, which is then traced to the eventual arrival at our number system. This is followed by a discussion of how numbers were used for counting, how they enabled the measurement of physical quantities, and how they led to the estimation of man-made and abstract notions in the socio-economic domain. As data don’t fall like manna from the sky, a unique feature of this book is that it explains from a teacher’s perspective how they’re really conceived in our minds, how they’re actually produced from individual observations, and how this defines their meaning and interpretation. It discusses the significance of standards, the use of taxonomies, and clarifies a series of misconceptions regarding the making of data. The book then describes the switch to a new research paradigm and its implications, highlights the arrival of microdata, illustrates analytical uses of data, and closes with a look at the future of data and our own role in it.

    1. We Got Number

    2. Measuring…With Instruments

    3. Humanity's Numbers

    4. The Socio-Economic Realm

    5. The Art of Drawing Lines

    6. The Old Guard

    7. The New Era of Data

    8. It's All About the Microdata

    9. Data Analysis

    10. The Future of Data


    George Sciadas has worked in the public, private, and academic sectors. He’s well-known in statistical circles in Canada and internationally, having worked for more than three decades at Statistics Canada and international organizations, including in several executive capacities. He has also taught at universities for many years. He earned his Ph.D. in Economics at McGill University, in Montreal. He has led many national and international projects, with research teams on all continents. He has authored numerous papers and monographs, and has been the editor of influential publications and compendia for many years.

    "In a world drowning in numbers and yet thirsty for facts and trustworthy information, ‘Number Savvy’ provides a rich history of how numbers came to be and how they have transformed how we view the world and conduct socio-economic research. As individuals and organizations come to terms with unprecedented and accelerating volumes and sources of data, George Sciadas masterfully illustrates the pivotal role of standards, definitions and taxonomies in transforming data into hard facts-the craft of the statistician and an essential skill for anyone with aspirations to thrive in a digital world."
    - Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, Statistics Canada/Government of Canada.

    "In a world where data is seen as the new oil of the economic system, Number Savvy: From the Invention of Numbers to the Future of Data could not be timelier. The book argues strongly for clear data standards and survey frames to measure socio-economic phenomenon adequately and provides a clear account of the challenges and benefits of the statistician’s apparatus, including the extensive uses of administrative data and more recently ‘Big data’. Number Savvy is a must for all those of us working with data and for the analyst, researchers and policy makers interested in getting the most of data using proper data sources and the powerful toolkits of statisticians."
    - Louis Marc Ducharme, Former IMF Chief Statistician, Chief Data Officer, and Director of the Statistics Department.

    "Number Savvy runs the gamut from a comprehensive description of how individual numerical systems evolved to a detailed analysis of the minutiae of aggregate data. It peels back the layers of how data are gathered, how they are aggregated, and how they are used - and misused. It explains how data’s grains of sand bind together to make a beach of usable data, and how changing tides will affect the future nature of that beach. Among numerous perceptive comments is a neat summary of one of the book’s many lessons: 'Again, the key thing here is not the correctness of the published numbers per se, but their true meaning.'. Number Savvy gives you that 'true meaning'."
    -Paul T. Dickinson, Department of Economics, McGill University.

    "In our days, so many people are dealing with numbers in their professional and social life. But how many do they really know them, their origin and history, their mystery and charm, their connection and role to almost all human activities, glorious and humble? George definitely does it and generously shares all these gems with his potential vast audience in a wonderful and revealing journey in the Cosmos of numbers from the origin of measure to the future of data. Number Savvy will be a great resource for students of data and data practitioners but it will also fuel the curiosity of the popular science lovers."
    - George Petrakos, Professor of Quantitative Methods, Panteion University.

    "We live in a world where data are ubiquitous, yet the cloak innumeracy is worn as a sign of pride by many.  This leads to outcomes where any number, despite its provenance, can be picked up, spun to fit a specific narrative, and then sold as fact. In this environment, Number Savvy makes an important contribution by shedding light on how numbers work. By walking us through the use of numbers, from their origin to their use today, George Sciadas provides data users with the tools to pull actionable information from the chaff. In so doing, it also touches on emerging issues around non-traditional data sources, big data and data stewardship. This book is useful not only to policy makers, thought leaders, market researchers and official statisticians, but to anyone that that wants to be better equipped to critically evaluate statistics."
    - Greg Peterson, Former Assistant Chief Statistician, Statistics Canada.

    "Summarising, the book is a non-technical overview about numbers that may help readers think critically about how data have contributed to human development. In my opinion, it may be an intriguing read especially to people working with official statistics or who are interested in the use of data in our society."

    Fabrizion DuranteUniversità del Salento, International Statistical Review, 2023