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Bad Data: Calgary author’s new book looks at why we measure and why we shouldn’t measure everything

So, what’s with our obsession to measure things?

In a new book called Bad Data by Calgary author and planning professional Peter Schryvers, he examines what we’re measuring and why often it’s the wrong thing. Or, if it should even be measured at all.

He said the book suggests that not everything should be boiled down to a metric.

LISTEN: LIVE interview with Peter Schryvers on book launch night at Ol’ Beautiful Brewing Co.

“What’s really interesting is that every time I talk about this book, people always ask, ‘well then, what should be measured,’” Schryvers said.

“The book kind of makes the case that we shouldn’t measure everything, and not everything’s measurable.”

He used the example of a dinner party with friends. What if they asked you to rate their dinner party on a scale from one to 10?

“Not only is that really weird, it doesn’t tell you anything. What does that mean? It doesn’t mean anything,” Schryvers said.

“It’s funny because we try to kind of fit everything into that quantitative box – almost like we’re so afraid of anything without a number. It’s like we can’t even understand anything without somehow measuring it.

‘for so long it was just… it was very personal.’

The book’s been a seven-year labour of love that stemmed from research done on housing affordability and the misnomer that living inner city is more expensive because of the house price.

“But I got a bunch of research that said that as they do that, their costs of transportation actually go up and they go up more than they save on the house,” he said.

“And so, by moving further and further away, they actually increase the cost of living when they think they’re doing the opposite. And it’s because they’re only measuring one thing – they’re just measuring the cost of the house.”

The book uses several case studies, including one involving Calgary’s Crowfoot Village Family Practice and how it measures health outcomes, in comparison with provincial standards.

Seeing the book in print, available now at all the major bookstores across North America and independent ones here in Calgary (Owl’s Nest, Pages on Kensington and Shelf Life Books), Schryvers said is surreal.

“Forever this was just an idea and a Word document on my computer,” Schryvers.

“It feels strange to have people reading it and talking about it because for so long it was just… it was very personal.”

Schryvers will be holding a book launch on Feb. 6 at Calgary’s Ol’ Beautiful Brewing Company from 6 to 9 p.m. More information can be found here.