Some ago I made a cultural exchange visit to Finland as part of the Culture for Cities and Regions project. Touring around the Helsinki region, our guides were charmingly equivocal about what looked pretty straight forward.
Whether it was golf courses in Espoo (7 or 8), municipalities in Helsinki (4 or 14) or lakes in Finland (187,888 plus or minus), it all depends, as it turns out, on how you counted them. Our hosts were relativistic tour guides par excellence and thought nothing of giving the figures a good interrogation as we drove up hill down dale and into a lake.
For phenomena which you might think are pretty unequivocal (when is a golf course not a golf course?), it turns out that there is a lot more to a thing than meets the eye.
Walking along the coastline of the Tooivo Kuulas park one morning you could see why. One moment the lake looks like an impressively large pond; the next it stretches way off into the distance and conjures up memories of Balaton Lake in Hungary; yet soon enough you find out that it’s not a lake at all but just another link in the supply chain to the Baltic Sea.
It struck me that the same case could be said for student attainment. How can a country’s education system said to be performing well? Through its ratings on the PISA scale? Numbers of students who graduate into work on completion of their undergraduate study? Aggregated ratings on a mental health scale of well being? Like the lakes in Finland, it depends on how you count them. My top PISA rating may be nothing more than a drop in your Baltic Sea when it comes to evaluating the relevance those ratings have on learners’ lives.
And when it comes to counting basketballs falling through hoops, the same principle clearly applies. Does one successful shot equate to a ball falling into the hoop and then falling all the way to the ground? Or could you count balls that fell partially through the hoop, only to inexplicably spin out upwards a short time later?
Whilst it’s temporarily startling that Espoo has a disputed number of golf courses in its territory, it is comforting to think that if we can’t count golf courses with confidence, we can confidently be a little less confident about the value of numbers when it comes to understanding the effects of cultural education on our children and indeed the number of occasions a basketball has properly fallen the requisite distance to qualify as a bona fide shot.
So, whilst today’s statistics might look like they’re disappointingly a bit shy of the target, we can find comfort in the spreadsheet when we realise that these numbers are not hard and fast things in their own right, but are subject to interpretation, imagination and the vagaries of the act of counting itself.
|Day||Attempts||Near Misses||Baskets||Effort (Baskets/ Attempt)||Baskets/ Minute (BPM)||FeelGood Factor||Total time||Total Shots||Total Baskets||Success rate|