Integration of Quantitative Methods in American Society

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Date Submitted: 09/03/2010 06:53 AM

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In his book, Triumph of Numbers, How Counting Shaped Modern Life, I. Bernard Cohen details how the collecting of numbers and making use of them have marked human affairs since antiquity. Cohen cites archeological records discovered throughout the ancient world listing everything from headcount censuses used for taxes and military service, to the number of prisoners, cattle, and goats captured after a battle by an Egyptian army, to the number of wives, concubines, and children, in a Persian king's harem. Another item of interest in Cohen's book was the attempt of the Catholic Church to use numerology to discredit Martin Luther. In 1585 Petrus Bungus, a Catholic numerologist published, The Mystery of Numbers, in which he presented detailed charts assigning letters in the alphabet with numerical values. He used the charts to prove that the letters in Martin Luther's name would add up to "666", the number of the beast. (Pg. 61) A dubious attempt to skew the results since any quantitative analysis of his work would note the absence of certain letters and the duplication of others. However, not all early attempts to use quantitative analysis provided such dubious results as evidenced by another noteworthy "numbers" analyst, Florence Nightingale. Her meticulous compilation of data from the field hospitals and wards where she worked during the Crimean War was instrumental in sanitary reforms enacted for all British hospitals, military and civilian. It was Nightingale's compilation and graphical presentation of statistical data that was the major source of information used in an 1858 report commissioned by the British government on the health of the British army. The results of that report caused an outcry in government; commissions were established and ultimately reforms were enacted in military hospitals. (Pg. 168) Those reforms gradually found their way to hospitals throughout the world.

As Cohen notes, quantitative analysis had been in informal use...