As if it needed another distinction, the year 2020 will go down in my book as the year that numbers were no longer just numbers. During these days of pandemic uncertainty and political absurdity the weaponization of seemingly every individual’s grasp on “the numbers” has never been worse.

“You can make numbers say anything” is an adage that’s been around a long time. And it’s true, depending upon conditions, points of view, or creative abilities, people can and do make available numbers fit their own purposes.

Anyone paying attention to COVID-19 numbers knows exactly what I’m talking about. As much as I am and have always been a “trust the data, trust the science” disciple, the deluge of coronavirus-related malleable facts and figures, statistics and specifications, has made my head spin at times. Somehow, every argument seems to come with its own mathematically supported argument. The Information Age, by definition, has not just provided us with enough informational rope to hang ourselves but with enough internet-based sources of that information to effectively tie our hands in the process. By that I mean that, where there used to be single sources of data that could be reliably used to answer a given question, now there have become multiple sources; sources that generate their own “data”. So much data that no longer is the internet used to search for answers, rather it is used to search for support for a given stance.

From the far left to the far right, the social spectrum has a source of information for us all. So many sources as to remove the need for critical thinking and replace it simply with a thirst for verification. Search for the thing that backs up your opinion, find it, and then stop.

Well, not stop, stop.

We all know how social media operates and until that relatively unverified source that fits one’s narrative so well has been shared with “friends” and an unnecessary and anonymous keyboard battle has ensued in the comments section the process has not really been completed. (This part isn’t 2020’s doing but it’s still happening.)

So this weaponization of numbers bugs me and things begin to happen. Mostly what happens is I withdraw from social media sites and dive into what I expect to be more fact-based reading.

This past week, while reading something that I felt was “fact based” an interesting bit of knowledge presented itself; according to the World Health Organization’s compiled document titled “International Statistical Classifications of diseases and related health problems” there are currently more than 8,000 possible causes of death.

I know that the WHO has taken some heat this year and it’s their statistics that are the ones being twisted and turned for argument sake that I spoke of earlier. But as I read this sentence and began to contemplate all the things that might be among the 8,000 causes of death, another side of the argument came clearly to mind.

An argument that needed no internet verification, no obscure backup, none of the modern day mumble jumble we’ve come to expect.

No matter what else someone could argue about this sentence and its contents, the one incontrovertible truth is that there may well be 8,000 causes of death known to man. But, you and I will beat every single one of them … except one.

It’s a small thing, but take that 2020.

Email Rob Ford at robfordwrites@gmail.com.

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