Quantitative care

Caring for the aggregate in US academic population health sciences

by KATHERINE A. MASON

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Academic quantitative population health scientists (AQPHS) in the United States care for populations with an ostensibly apolitical set of quantitative methods. This quantitative care has three interconnected components: AQPHS care about populations, they care for their data sets and models, and they care with these models’ outputs. In the process their ideals of objectivity compete with, and enable, a moral ideal of political advocacy. Slipping between knowledge and intervention, the “real” and the imagined, and individuals and populations, AQPHS produce knowledge that they hope will change public narratives about marginalized populations. In doing so they draw on ideal types, converting quantitative findings about populations into speculation about individual behavior. AQPHS’ ideal types both precede and tautologically reemerge from their science.