We have always lived in interesting and challenging times, filled with reports of numbers indicating what is happening – life expectancy, births, deaths, and most likely millions of other numbers representing important and probably not so important events. Currently, we are living in what many people regard as an especially interesting and challenging time, with numbers about the coronavirus pandemic dominating news reported in the print, radio, television, and internet media. Most recently, numbers about climate change have taken almost center stage as the “hurricane season” occurs. .
I confess to checking the coronavirus pandemic numbers every day, especially for the state of Maine, where I live and now also work during this time of remote teaching and scholarly work. I also keep track of what is happening with hurricanes, which occasionally do make landfall along the coast of Maine and can create many tree downings and power outages, beach erosion, and flooding.
Numbers are perhaps especially important to researchers who conduct quantitative research to test hypotheses. Thinking of numbers within the context of hypothesis testing requires theoretical thinking. Thus, even if implicit, theory is paramount to the interpretation of numbers. Of course, it would be more significant if the numbers were interpreted using explicit theory.
It is, unfortunately, not unusual to read reports of hypothesis testing research conducted by nurses with no mention of any theory that might have guided the research and articulation of the hypothesis. Should we then assume that the researchers are not thinking theoretically? Or, are they unable or unwilling to tell readers what theory was used? As I wrote in a 2019 blog, it is impossible to think atheoretically. Why, then, are so many reports of numbers devoid of any theoretical perspective?
How are we to understand the meaning of numbers about the coronavirus pandemic or climate change without some theoretical perspective? I maintain that it is all nursologists’ responsibility to place all numbers in some theoretical context. For example, nursological conceptual models and theories about primary prevention provide understanding of the extent to which numbers for the coronavirus pandemic are or are not responding to primary prevention interventions (see https://nursology.net/2020/04/21/the-value-of-primary-prevention/). In addition, all nursological conceptual models include attention to the environment, which could easily be extended to encompass the issues surrounding climate change (see my September 24, 2019 post). Furthermore, Nightingale’s theory provides an important nursological perspective for interpreting both pandemic and climate change numbers (see https://nursology.net/2020/05/12/wwfd-what-would-florence-do-in-the-covid-19-pandemic/).
Nightingales’ theoretical perspective of the importance of numbers and the environment is evident in that she “recognized the need to provide an environment conducive to recovery, [and] that data [i.e., numbers] can prompt innovation” (Hundt, 2020, p. 26), and that the effectiveness of theoretically-based innovations is supported by numbers. In particular, for all nursologists “advocating for public policy and conducting research, [theoretically-based numbers] help frame two questions: “How can we improve the health of our communities? Are our interventions making a difference?” (Hundt, 2020, p. 28).
Aula’s (2020) caution about “misplaced trust in numbers” underscores the importance of not only using theory to interpret numbers but also to be wiling to allow the numbers to support rejection of the current version of the theory. Willingness to reject the theory – or at least a hypothesis derived from the theory – is consistent with Popper’s (1965) philosophy of science, which indicates that rejection of the theory leads to a better theory.
“May you live in interesting times” (Wikipedia, 2020) is a widely used saying that may or may not be a positive wish—perhaps it is better to wish to live in uninteresting times that are characterized by tranquility and harmony. I would like to paraphrase a positive interpretation of the saying and offer the wish that all of us may always live in nursological theoretical times and always interpret numbers within the context of nursological theory.
Aula, V. (2020, May 15). The public debate around COVID-19 demonstrates our ongoing and misplaced trust in numbers. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2020/05/15/the-public-debate-around-covid-19-demonstrates-our-ongoing-and-misplaced-trust-in-numbers/
Hundt, B, (2020), Reflections on Nightingale in the year of the nurse. American Nurse Journal, 15(5), 26-29.
May you live in interesting times (2020, June 3), In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/May_you_live_in_interesting_times
Popper, K. R. (1965). Conjectures and refutation: The growth of scientific knowledge. Harper Torchbooks.