Reading evidence
Reading evidence

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Reading evidence

1.2.7 Summary

  • What we must do to understand numbers as they are used as evidence in social science is to practise and so become familiar with them, and to understand the conventions which determine how they are used.

  • Sets of numerical data can be presented in many ways, as tables, bar charts, pie charts or line graphs. These are just different ways of trying to represent or make a picture of numbers. Which is used is largely a matter of which best shows the features the person presenting the information is most interested in.

  • When reading numbers or diagrams:

    • Get a feel for the overall picture.

    • Pick out one or two points and make sure they make sense.

    • Read the words on the axes and any other explanations.

    • Look for patterns.

However careful we are when using and reading quantitative evidence, there are some things it will never tell us. It can never, for instance, give us evidence of how people really feel about their lives. Certainly, evidence from surveys like the British Social Attitudes Survey can tell us how many people feel a certain way about something, but even here we miss the real sense of the power of people's emotions and beliefs, and their complexity. Sometimes numbers are just too abstract, and to understand the situation we need to get closer to the reality of people's lives. For this we turn to a different kind of evidence in Section 3, which seems closer to people's lived experience.

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