This month's quote is from the New York Times review by Scott Stossel of The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public, by Sarah E. Igo. The review of this interesting book on the history of public opinion measurements and their influence on how we think about ourselves is quite favorable but his parting reminder couldn't be more right on:
"Even as we have moved toward ever-finer calibrations of statistical measurement, the knowledge that social science can produce is, in the end, limited. Is the statistical average rendered by pollsters the distillation of America? Or its grinding down into porridge? For all of the hunger Americans have always expressed for cold, hard data about who we are, literary ways of knowing may be profounder than statistical ones. (You can learn as much about life on Main Street from Sinclair Lewis as from the Lynds.) Poll-saturated though we may be, our national self-understanding still comes as much from art (think of Norman Rockwell or Edward Hopper), literature (think of ''The Great Gatsby'' or even ''The Bonfire of the Vanities'') and impressionistic journalism (think of James Agee and Walker Evans, or Joan Didion) as it does from any survey. I'm sure at least 23 percent of Americans would agree with me."
--Scott Stossel, "Measure for Measure," New York Times, 1/21/ 2007
Painting: Edward Hopper, Room in New York (1932)