The credibility of social research rests upon the categorical evidence given and established as reliable. Statistical data forms an inseparable part of its research methodology necessary for scrupulous analysis and assessment facilitating research. However the increasing, often obsessive dependence on quantitative data or statistics to examine and understand social phenomena has had alienating and negative consequences on the more humanitarian inclination to comprehend the same that try to come to a more constructive conclusion. In the excessive adherence to statistical approach people become just round figures of quantitative data that are analyzed then accordingly.
Every time at the mention of a social phenomenon like poverty, unemployment, welfare or disasters, what immediately follows is numerical figures and statistics trying to calculate and probe into the extent of its severity. The degree of our concern on the matters seem directly proportional to the larger the numbers. The consequence of such tendency of observation is in the way we approach these social phenomenon itself. The limitation of statistical data is its inability to examine qualitative circumstances such as poverty or unemployment.
Data only applies to studying groups since it relies on quantitative and not qualitative data. As such it is ill equipped or unable to go deeper into a social problem to understand it in its entirety, the causes and effects and possible solutions to the area of social research. While statistics may tell the percentage of unemployed youth in between the ages of 25 to 35, it is utterly incapable of deducing the root cause of the problem, the social and economic reasons behind unemployment itself. While statistics rules away subjective analysis in research making it more objective, statistics can sometimes be used and manipulated to misrepresent facts. Poverty has always been colored in countries like the United States where years of racial injustices and segregation ensured an unequal distribution of resources affecting the non-white citizen. The racial dimension of poverty has persisted years after the civil rights movement well into the 21st century.
While data and statistics might show the rise of standards of living, employment and poverty reduction, it does not tell the complete story. What can be conveniently left behind such presentations of statistics is how the non-white population, especially the Black community continues to be left out of whatever is the supposed social developments. What it doesn’t take into account is the social and political realities of the existing social institutions that are limiting the growth on an egalitarian basis for those living on the margins of society. Similar is the situation in India. While statistics and data shows the incredible rate of development of economic growth in the country (especially after Modi government came into power) it does not show the continuing, appalling level of poverty the underprivileged dalit and minority communities live in.
The obsession with statistics, the bureaucratic meticulousness in which social research preoccupies itself which seems to be almost anti-humanist. What it fails to recognize is the starch reality, the deeply prickling truth about the societies we inhabit and the ways to effectively solve these issues rather than not just present them as factual truths. The larger social responsibility of social research is not to add individuals to another list or treat people as part of a statistics. It goes beyond that. Pope Francis, talking at the headquarters of the U.N’s World Food Program at Rome said, “Without faces and stories, human lives become statistics and we run the risk of bureaucratizing the sufferings of others”. Speaking against the attitude of approaching the issues and the growing immunity of people he said, “Poverty has a face! It has the face of a child; it has the face of a family; it has the face of people, young and old. It has the face of widespread unemployment and lack of opportunity. It has the face of forced migrations and of empty or destroyed homes”.
In the absence of a more socially committed social research with more meaningful approaches to comprehend complex social problem individuals will be reduced to mere numbers in the statistical data established. This alienates the larger social and political purpose for researching and understanding social phenomena which is intended primarily at making things better. The inclination to see people merely as part of the statistics sometimes aligns with the political strategy of maintaining the status quo and the established social order for their own advantage. The statistical data showing extensive elimination of poverty, unemployment and increase in income can be used to support the claims of a government while not examining it thoroughly. While the statistics shows the aggregate average data of a larger group, it leaves out individuals or groups of individuals who have not benefited from these claims.