Oxford Q-Step Centre

Robin Harding

As a teenager I didn’t like maths. What I did like was Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, the source of many bodacious quotes, including:

Bill: [reading from their history textbook] "Socrates; The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing."

Ted: [gasps] That’s us, dude!

One of the many things that Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted ‘Theodore’ Logan taught me is that, death and taxes aside, we can’t be all that certain about anything. If they had been social scientists, they would have been into numbers. Not only do quantitative methods accept this uncertainty, they also help us to think about it systematically. I had to cross an ocean to figure this out for myself, but after 6 years in NYC and a couple more in Rochester, I’m back home. In my own research I apply quantitative methods to questions in African politics, where uncertainty abounds. Some years ago a colleague and I had the good fortune to interview Kenneth Kaunda, the former president of Zambia who re-introduced multiparty elections in 1991, and lost the presidency in the process. When asked why he had decided to hold the elections, given that he went on to win less than 25% of the votes, he looked at us and said, “God told me to do it. And, I thought I would win.” He should’ve called Nate Silver. The numbers matter, of that I’m quite certain.