Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Hiding Emotion behind Numbers

Estimated reading time: 1 minute, 33 seconds

I saw this beautiful animated gif in a zeega Terry Elliott did and it moved me. So much.

I loved the symbolism of it and how we could reinterpret it to mean so many things. Wow, i would love to show it to my students and see what they come up with.

My first thought is how we might be hiding love behind the numbers. Or how we needed to get rid of parts of the numbers so that the love could shine through

My main thought behind it related to qualitative vs quantitative research (yes, coz i’m writing and reading about it a lot, i see it everywhere) and how it symbolically shows how you might bury emotion behind numbers. How using all the numbers would hide the emotions and you need to get rid of the numbers to show the love/feelings.

A funny way of interpreting it would be to think of how we sometimes covet those facebook “likes” and twitter follower numbers, but our real need is to feel loved 🙂 ok, that’s a bit extreme, but you know 🙂

It also reminded me of something. When i wrote my #digiwrimo post on Writing to Connect, they (Jesse and Sean and Chris, i guess?) chose an image that was basically the word love, written like using light on a dark background in a garden. I remember thinking that was such a weird choice, like i’d written a romance novel or something not very serious, and was mildly embarrassed. But then, what it really was, was insight from the hybridped folks that my article was talking about a lot of things, and behind all of them, was love that i shared with my online friends. Sure, I ask directly in the article if we can love someone online, but they noticed that my whole article was really about that 🙂

47 thoughts on “Hiding Emotion behind Numbers

  1. Something to think about (and I say this to play devil’s advocate and as a mixed methodologist), Maha, is that some of us express emotion and narrative through numbers. It is just another sort of language, and a potentially powerful one at that– when we use it to “express” emotion rather than to “bury” it. Love the gif as well. Thanks for bringing it to our attention 🙂

    1. Hey Laura – how so? Could you give me examples of ppl expressing emotion thru numbers? Or is it discomfort in expressing emotion, so saying it thru numbers? Still, how so?

      1. When I choose which statistical analysis to do, I am expressing my data with a bias, either to tell a story (or, in more negative terms, to push an agenda). The story is built into the language and assumptions associated with each statistical analysis. prediction through multiple regression? anova? odds ratios? They all give similar results on the same data but with very different implications and responses from the people who are receiving the results. I express emotion just fine through words. I also express emotion through numbers.

        1. Ah, I hear you on that, Laura. I agree. But I still think you can’t express it all through numbers (though I love numbers for other purposes)

          1. lol and others think you can’t express essence through words. It’s the eternal battle, agreed. Unfortunately it is my lot in life to walk the line and fuss with both sides when given the opportunity 🙂

            1. I sympathize. A colleague of mine recently told me she hoped i never had to be responsible for institutional data reporting because my paradigm was sooo anti-“that” in the sense they usually want to see it

              I am thinking as i read this about your medical background and my computer science background. In my case, the precision of numbers is so accurate that it’s totally irrelevant to social science. In your case, quantitative and strict controlled experiments are the norm and needed, but even though medicine is science, humans don’t always fit the mold. Even less so in social science, of course

              1. I think there is a difference between suggesting that people “hide behind numbers” and discussing the inappropriateness of strict, controlled experiments. Strict, controlled experiments are not my world and I daresay a lot of people who work with numbers on a daily basis eschew the concept of “controlled.” I work in the real world, after all. Medical doctors work in the real world too – and those who hang their hats on “control” just haven’t woken up and smelled the coffee yet.
                Mathematics and numbers deserve the same complex treatment that language does – no one would lump Spanish, Chinese, and English into the same category of expression–we all know that we think differently in different languages. On top of that, language and numbers are both technologies – it’s how you use it that’s important. To equate “numbers” with “hiding” and “words” with “emotion” just seems a little…something that makes me sad.

      1. I think that those of us who worry about that have a reason to worry. However, I believe the answer is not to degrade the beauty of numbers as a technology, but rather find ways to inspire everyone to understand its nuance.

        1. Laura, agree about avoiding the degrading of numbers. Administration at our college applies numbers to things they don’t understand as if numbers explained things without further comment. My oncologists evoke numbers to persuade me their service is exemplary, when really, it sucks. It like a holdover from astrology or phrenology.

          1. And I agree that many people are swayed by numbers without truly understanding what they mean (let’s face it, most or all standardized tests, quantitative indicators, etc aren’t even close being valid in the statistical sense of the word). But your second example, your oncologists’ numbers, proves my initial point – numbers are just as biased, emotional, provocative, and powerful as words and therefore should be respected and dealt with in a similarly nuanced way. All of this points to Chris’ comment, which was that we need to do a better job of learning as school children (and later as adults and policymakers) that “numbers” are as biased as any other human technology/language.

            Possibly one of the distinctions that needs to be made more clearly in this thread is that “numbers” and “quantitative methods” are not necessarily synonymous with positivism (something that Maha touched on above).

            And to an entirely separate point, I am truly sorry that you have had a horrible experience with the medical world. It is neither perfect nor consistent nor fair. I would be the first to acknowledge that it sucks as often as it shines.

    1. Terry ur going nuts with this diigo multimedia annotation thing – in this particular context it actually takes the post further because ur pointing to different forms of representation, too 🙂 Going over now

      1. I fear that you have figured out how I learn things. The tool scratches an itch so I keep using it to scratch with until I no longer itch. By that point it is part of the repertoire and gets trotted out as needed. If at any time it aggravates you or is just noise instead of signal, just let me know. I will tone it down. Until then….full speed ahead. BTW, the problem that it solves is, as you hint, the need for more than text alone to respond. In my discipline, rhetoric/comp/lit pedagogy, the idea of critical stance is so important. What multimodal comments give you is a different place to stand.

        1. I love that your drive pushes me further to stretch my own horizons. When i first met u i watched u and kevin from afar; now i’m initiating multimodal play even tho i am nowhere near as creative (in that way) as you both. Love u both for that

  2. I think you’ve touched on something significant here, but saying that we’re “hiding” behind numbers suggests an insidious intention that might not be there. Many people, as the discussion between you and Laura suggests we have a long way to go in teaching math/numeracy to students (and adults!). What if courses helped students see how each field was used to help people in that field be expressive? Statistics classes show how researchers’ points are made by manipulating results. Language classes show how writers’ goals are met by manipulating language (you know…rhetoric). Science classes show how scientists’ curiosity is managed by manipulating experiments.

    We so easily get wrapped up in the content of our respective fields that we often lose sight of the purposes to which those fields are put. Those purposes are the real point behind all the work we do, and implementing them allows one to understand the field.

    1. Hey Chris and Laura, yes, you’re right. Kinda taking it too far. The visual (another thing that can trick you, right?) sort of got me onto interpreting it for my own agenda. Laura is right about several things she’s said: words don’t necessarily capture everything, including emotions; diff languages express thoughts differently (and some believe impact how we think altogether); and yes, randomized controlled experiments do not equate to numbers. (Equate, get it?)
      Chris ur right of course also about how we teach the literacy of each discipline/subject

      So then my question is this: how come so much literature/scholarship esp in the US relies on numbers to describe and assess the very emotional experiences of teaching and learning? It’s not hiding emotions, it’s glossing over and ignoring context. I haven’t for a long time seen any quantitative study on education that, on its own, adds value to practitioners. Mixed methods, yes. I do surveys, too. But pure correlation and regression analysis and such? No.

      1. Ah, yes, now these are fabulous questions. I think that a lot of the educational research (specifically research design) in the US is driven by funding and, unfortunately, someone managed to convince all the funders that numbers don’t lie…and so we have entered a horrible cycle of “glossing over and ignoring context.” All of this makes Chris’ call for more nuanced forms of math/numeracy education all the more critical.

        1. Im having trouble deciding which one of u (Laura & Chris) to respond to 😉

          But two key things come to mind: i wonder how it is that people in policy positions don’t “feel” or “miss” lack of context. We all generalize (i just did hehe) but to believe our generalizations more because we got some numbers to back them up, then proceed to make policy decisions based on it… It just seems like there’s a level of cosnsciousness missing here.

          And second, i don’t know about humanities being at risk, as much as humanity itself 😉

          Oh but more importantly, i’ll post more emotional, controversial not-well-thought-out posts (sounds like the intro to Jon Stewart) if they’ll generate great discussions like this 😉

          1. Gardner Campbell did a great ted talk about wisdom as a learning outcome. In the first third somewhere, he describes different types of thinking (sorry, it’s been a while since I watched it). When confronted with difficult questions, people tend to change the question to something answerable, rather than to struggle with what appears to be unanswerable. Working in basic quantitative research designs (and notice my emphasis on basic – any statistician worth their salt is going to make the same argument that Chris did above..I’d like to disclaim at this point that I’m no statistician, but I’ve learned from some really good ones) allows people to jump to easily framed questions.

            1. Well that’s it, though, isn’t it? From my world view, there isn’t a valuable question about education that can be ASKED that would have a quantitative answer that would satisfy me. I struggled in my PhD to find value in correlational studies related to critical thinking then just admitted they were of little use to me without digging deeper in non-quantitative ways.

              The best and most valuable learning outcomes are not measurable. Will check out Gardner’s ted talk, thanks! I love him. Now that’s a person who’s a magician with words!

      2. Current American culture is so enamored by technology and progress and science that we generally think they’re the solution to all our problems. If something has numbers in it, we’re more likely to believe the thing. (My students often refer to any cited statistics or other figures as “facts”, with the implication that richer descriptions of things must be less-valuable or merely “opinion”.) It’s essentially the battle for the preservation of the humanities, but on a larger scale and at a deeper level.

  3. Where I used to work numbers come up when people are being laid-off and generally words of encouragement and support appear in the hiring of new people. This relates somewhat to how low-grade managers and institutional types distance themselves use the abstraction of numbers to be inhuman.
    That said, when losing your job here, the term often used is “being made redundant” which is so disrespectful even the most evil number person would shy from applying it to a fellow human. When the usual and frequent educational budget cuts took my job away I made it necessary for the rats to fire me early. Better than ‘redundant’.

    1. Wow Scott, good points! I wrote my comment about humanity a second ago before reading your comment. But you’ve clarified this much better

      1. Maybe the problem Maha is that numbers are perceived to be neutral while words can run off to the emotional and subjective? I had a statistics instructor that would weep over an algorithm or a poem in equal parts. I think his brain was well integrated with an allegiance to human expression however it was presented. Some people seem to use math to reduce experience to the blandest of phenomenon but I don’t think the mathematical imagination itself need be that restricted.

        The qualitative is most native to my method of understanding the world. This might explain my preference for it as I need not struggle with the chill of numbers that seem indifferent or beyond my reach? An alternate to the belief in numbers to mesmerize the mind is the written word–the original abstraction.

        1. Now you’ve gone and made me feel sorry for the numbers! I can see my next blogpost… Why I Love Numbers But Hate Quantitative Edu Research 🙂

          But yes, the neutrality thing, the objectivity thing, is a killer for me. The illusions of them. At least words tend not to presume that. But of course they’re also abstractions, decalcomania…. Oh God, we’re never gonna finish that autoethnography, are we?

          1. I think the autoethnography is safe from Quantitative. Numbers express abstractions recognizable by people highly literate in thinking in math. It isn’t that we aren’t smart in math but that the job of mapping the unfamiliar (which I think we have in the CAE) is being flogged to death by every pseudo numbers genius on the planet and we need a model that is readable and authentic to a general audience without the need of a secondary explanation on what we are on about. I read recently that commercial airliners are now so complex that a medical doctor is needed to understand and diagnose their faults. Maybe even a psychiatrist or a high-level physicist / complexity researcher 🙂

            I see patterns of thinking that apply to humans at the level of encountering the unfamiliar like a traveler in a new culture. This often expresses itself an uneasy feeling of things not running fast enough to keep up which I think all of us are drawn to, not scared away by. Maybe Laura could model this in mathematical terms in another paper on the diversity of understanding? There are likely hundreds of ways to decode what we want to find in the CAE and we can do Qualitative.

            1. I am highly literate in mathematical thinking and scientific thinking. Which is exactly why i recognize that lots of quantitative positivistic (not all is positivistic) research on education is flawed or useless in terms of providing insight

              It is not that ppl don’t understand the research – it is that quite often the research does not provide any deep insight into what is being studied

              More about misuse or abuse than impossibility of it ever being used well if u know what i mean

              I admire how Justin Reich critiques his own work for example on edx

              1. Maha, having known mathematicians I wouldn’t say they are narrow in their understandings of the complexities of the human sphere. But still their mode of “getting-it” is hard for people like me to take in. I don’t know the terms of authenticity that would allow my judging veracity or testing claims.

                It might be possible that math could illuminate what we struggle with in language? That math resolves while language tangles things up? Trouble is for me is that resolution seems off the mark. I prefer ambiguity and celebrate messiness as necessary and with math all I can reach is an end where I give up and walk away. Language sings to me of story and humanity and insists on my attention while math just sits in the corner and squeaks.

                Could I catch myself in a contradiction or misunderstanding that changed me in math? Not at a level that I know of that matters. It is noticeable that people who spend a lot of time talking jive (administrators) fall back to numbers when dirty things that hurt people are (in their eyes) necessary–as if numbers were beyond questioning.

              2. Scott i have no issues with mathematicians. I have issues with social scientists reducing complex phenomena to supposedly value-free numbers

  4. Maha, it seems an awful lack of imagination that even suggests neutrality is an actual stance on being. Even zero has a place and identity but neutrality is a falsehood or emptiness unbecoming of living beings to believe in. Neutrality disconnects from feelings and may seem advantageous as a kind of settling of conflict tool. Except by insisting on disengagement we can’t mature into admitting contradiction is something we should be able to work with. By saying we can’t know each other except by assigning numbers we fail in the business of humanness–and I wonder if this might be your objection to the quantitative method? That it doesn’t reveal any essential qualities of life yet claims to be a way of “knowing” that’s so artificial as to be irrelevant?

    How can we say we can be detached and connected at the same time? I deal with medical people who disallow my emotions which allows them to deny the history that made me and then try to replace this damaged but still living thing with a list of proper behaviours from a fiction of respect they haven’t earned. Their judgement and the colorless world they paint is crushingly defeating. Neutrality as indifference or worse as erasure is their game and I won’t play it.

    1. Exactly, Scott, can we use these lines verbatim in our methodology section:
      “By saying we can’t know each other except by assigning numbers we fail in the business of humanness–and I wonder if this might be your objection to the quantitative method? That it doesn’t reveal any essential qualities of life yet claims to be a way of “knowing” that’s so artificial as to be irrelevant?

      How can we say we can be detached and connected at the same time? ”

      Beautifully put

      1. And yet, I can’t help but to react strongly and physically to Scott’s comments about all those horrible “medical people.” As a former “medical people,” I feel hurt and summarily excluded from this dialogue, and go immediately to a place of thinking about all the times I made sacrifices for patients who didn’t even stop to recognize that they were sacrifices (I guess that’s part of what defines sacrifice, right?). I’ll spare you the actual examples.

        I’ve monitored my own feelings to this discussion thread closely and, quite frankly, Maha and company, I don’t know what to say or do – and I would love some advice.

        I think it’s funny that I am defending quantitative data, research designs, and now – somewhat oddly and randomly – medical people. It’s funny because I spend my days defending qualitative data, research designs, and advocating for change in medical education. So why the switch? Why do I find myself in the other position?

        I am reminded of women in labor (for the record, I used to by a OB/GYN. I delivered over a thousand babies before I quit). Some women in labor (certainly not all…not even a majority) think it’s acceptable to hurt their doctor while laboring. I’ve been kicked, scratched, spit on, had my hair pulled, had every epithet – racial and otherwise – hurled at me by laboring women, and unless those women are keeping you from helping them (or they kick you in your own pregnant belly) you just take the abuse and try to get them pain relief, because those women are hurting, and hurting people tend to lash out.

        Mezirow wrote that to have a dialogue, both parties have to be willing – at least conceptually – to change their position. They have to be able to listen.

        When I read through some of this thread (not all), I hear a lot of hurt and frustration and anger too. I see a lot of big punches in the air (like those of the laboring women), with wild swings at numbers and quantitative research and statistics and randomized control studies and, jeez, now even “medical people who disallow my emotions…” as if all of these things are the same thing. This is a messy thread…which is part of the “figuring it all out,” I suppose, but it’s not a place of actually being able to hear what others with other viewpoints have to say. And it’s not a place of being able to convince others of your points. Heck, I’m even drawn to arguing for the “other side” but am feeling strange and out of place for doing it.

        And so I don’t know what to do or say or if I’m even welcome in this conversation. Part of me just wants to walk away and ignore it all and everything that you are trying to say.

        1. Hi Laura, i am sorry you feel unwelcome from the tone of this thread but i love your example of women in labor lashing out from anger and pain
          First – i know Scott is coming from a place of deep pain w experiences w health care. You know my parents and husband are doctors. I know he is not talking about them because they aren’t the kind of doctor or medical professional he is lashing out about. Unfortunately not all medical professionals are caring ppl just like there are caring and careless teachers

          Equally there are good and bad quantitative researchers. Unfortunately those who are dogmatic about quantifying learning (and this is not you or ppl who use mixed methods or ppl like Justin Reich who writes about limitations of data analytics even while he does them) are often those who influence policy and are gatekeepers to which knowledge gets accepted and heard

          We are coming from a place where we constantly have to defend autoethnography as a valid mode of social research when we see a lot of poorly designed quantitative stuff getting published easily

          It’s a place of pain of being oppressed kind of for rebelling and challenging the status quo

          And i am sorry it comes out as silencing you. But everything you said here is well taken and generalizations we make are exactly the opposite of what we are trying to do.

          I seriously take all your points – and i really need to write the “i love math” post. But the issue with misuse of stats to represent human experience as the exclusive form of studying it (and this is not you!) can be hegemonic and almost always silences voices or experiences of minorities and glosses over context. I need to write more concretely about this so i am not making sweeping statements. Thanks for writing this comment. Hugs

          1. And as we’ve discussed, Maha, for me this thread has exposed problems of how to engage in conversation on an important topic (in this case the qual/quant conversation) when you come from the “privileged” position and the majority of the thread is coming from the “unprivileged” place. Obviously, at some point the two “sides” must engage or else what’s the point of conversation and where’s the hope of change. But if it is done too soon, the presence of privilege can be oppressive (?) Maybe? I don’t know. That’s my question for the group.

            1. Laura as we just agreed on DM, let’s start writing a piece where we engage the convo and see how far we can get with it. I am really excited about the prospect 😉

              1. Laura, mention of my oncologist’s failures were not intended to silence you or urge you to justify yourself. Medically I’m disaster and it all begins with not being listened to. Oddly, dozens of medical people have been responsible for bringing me back to life from two heart failures they talk numbers all the time as a means of informing me of my condition. The problem with the oncologists really falls to one interview conducted when I was gravely ill and the doctor was NOT listening. No amount of reasoning gets me past the red flag on my chart and it’s time for me to walk away from them.

                Sorry if my comments hurt you, I’m too focused on myself at the moment.

                The uses of quantitative seems unquestionably useful in Epidemiology as in John Snow and the Cholera outbreak in London. Thinking about that though brings me to judge his work as problem solving which I’ve become averse to, possible as a result of living where reasoning and diagnostic inquiry is virtually pointless. (Another story).

                Someone to bring in on this is Maria Droujkova

  5. One other comment Laura and I’ll leave this alone. I’ve had many disappointments with my medical care right up to being left to die and don’t accept that treatment as “medical”, rather as sloppy and unprofessional. Unfortunately it is the norm in this isolated area but not to be associated with caring medical professionals that I hear about in Rebecca Hogue’s Cancer Mentors course just getting set up now.

    Poor communication, restricted access to care and wild west mentality has resulted again in a failure in my treatment. The current problem started with a misunderstanding that became the story of me at the satellite clinic and spread to my assigned oncologist at the main clinic who quit my case without ever talking to me. I was “rude” which has been turned into “abusive” and told chemo would be refused me if I didn’t “behave.” As there is only one supplier of cancer care in Alberta this is not a meaningless threat. I have tried repeatedly to repair the original “relationship” with my original oncologist but lines of communication have been closed since mid-August. My last option is to speak to the oncologist reassigned my case, though at this point there’s not much hope and I’ll have to quit chemo.

    That said, I do want my story heard by someone so my original oncologist doesn’t feel it was her that let me down. Nor do I want to quit chemo and would rather repair this mess but not at the price of what very little of myself is left.

    As for this discussion that I seem to have led astray maybe we have gotten to be too used to agreeing among ourselves and have started shutting new viewpoints out? Outside the net I’m encouraged to be silent and hope this hasn’t happened to you here.

    1. I’ve left several comments that Maha’s blog has eaten, so I don’t know if this will go through or not 🙂 Over the time that my comments have been eaten, the discourse has moved beyond the original “numbers” conversation to one of medical care. Regarding numbers, to summarize what I typed out before, I think you proved my point beautifully when talking about how your oncologist used numbers to his/her own end…my point being that numbers-like any human technology (language, for instance)-are powerful and as emotional as the human wielding them and therefore should be treated with respect and nuance.

      Regarding your medical care, I am sorry for your experience and your current situation. It is not a new viewpoint for me, but rather one that I’ve heard many times and embrace as a complementary narrative to my own. I am the doctor who got beat up by the system. You see many doctors complain (mostly rightfully, in my mind), that the lawyers, hospital administrators, and, yes, even some patients–the ones that threaten and bully –tie their hands and destroy any sort of healing relationship the doctors might want to create. Doctors are put on the defensive before they even leave residency. And then there are patients, like yourself, who tell what I believe to be the same story but from another perspective. I hear and believe your story. But like the qual/quant debate, the trick is to reframe the problem and focus on the system rather than the people. This is hard when you are currently in the process of being injured. I’m almost four years out from quitting medicine and it still gets my adrenaline pumping when I hear angry “medical people” stories. It takes an amazing amount of work for me – even four years out – to think things through. And I just walked away from my personal identity, five years of practice, and twelve years of training – I can’t imagine how it would be for you, given that this is about life and death, to step back from the argument for just a minute to reframe the question.

      But I guarantee you that some of those “medical people” out there are hurting too. Not all – but then not all patients are hurting, either. Beating up on the other side – whether it’s doctors, quantitative researchers, etc. never works.

      If you leave further comments here, I will definitely read them. I might not comment as I have some issues that are taking immediate priority. But I will definitely read them.

  6. Laura, your point is taken and agree that there is a systemic institutional problem here. Things went bad when I moved to the satellite clinic and communication just collapsed. The first interview to fix things is next week. After 5 months of misunderstanding I’m getting an interview with the Oncologist who has taken over my case. Something I had to set up myself over the heads of the branch clinic doctors. The the system grinds all of us and it may be that a conversation away from the people who anger me will resolve things.

    Thank You for your reply. It can’t be easy to hear my generalizations as NOT personal and hope this conversation is teaching me something about people that I’ve lost.

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