Backbone is the corporate magazine of Erasmus School of Economics Published three times a year, once in print and twice online, the magazine highlights successful and interesting alumni, covers the latest economics trends and faculty research, and reports on school news, events, and student, faculty, and alumni accomplishments.
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Meet alumnus Sanne Blauw
Publication Erasmus School of Economics, Erasmus University Rotterdam Editors Ronald de Groot, Yrla van de Ven, Babette den Daas, Henk Goris, Aleksandra Stuip, Madeleine Kemna, Annemarieke Dumay-Roest Concept, design and realization Kris Kras context, content and design Illustrations Carolyn Ridsdale Photography & Video Rotterdam Branding Toolkit, Kees Stuip Fotografie, Sophia van den Hoek, Marc Heeman, Daarzijn, Rien Bexkens, Koala Koncepts, Eric van Vuuren, Ka-Chun Lo, Willeke Machiels.
Journalist at De Correspondent
Sanne Blauw (30) is a self-proclaimed ‘number nerd’ with a refreshing attitude toward quantification. Her motto: “Let’s put numbers back where they belong. Not on a pedestal, not with the rubbish, but together with words.” She does so for De Correspondent, the fastest growing all-digital news platform in the Netherlands, where she works as a numeracy correspondent. Some of you may recognize Sanne from her TEDx talk ‘How to defend yourself against misleading statistics in the news’. Many more will get to know her because De Correspondent is about to go international with an English version. Plenty of reasons to talk to this alumna.
Sanne: “The title of my dissertation is ‘Well to do or doing well’. I asked myself what determines our wellbeing and what role other people play in the process. In order to answer those questions, I set up various research projects, approaching the subject from different angles."
Sanne Blauw (30) obtained a PhD in Econometrics at Erasmus School of Economics and the Tinbergen Institute in 2014. To share her knowledge about numbers and statistics with a wider audience, Sanne Blauw started working as a journalist for online platform De Correspondent. She also speaks at conferences and held her own TEDx talk.
Economists tend to measure wellbeing in financial terms, such as Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, we shouldn’t read too much into the numbers. It is not self-evident that people with high incomes also feel well. Money is no guarantee for a happy relationship, good health or an interesting job. There is a growing interest in alternative measurements of wellbeing. One of those is happiness.
“One of the biggest lessons I learned during my PhD at Erasmus School of Economics was that collecting data always involves making choices that may influence the results you find. I used to think, like most people, that numbers are facts you cannot argue with. However, this is precisely what you should do: always ask yourself where this number came from and what its limitations are.”
Science and journalism are really not that different
The final piece of Sanne’s puzzle seems to be De Correspondent, an online news platform which distinguishes itself with its philosophy about journalism. “Just like numbers, journalism always has a subjective dimension, caused by the people who choose what to write about and how to write about it. De Correspondent recognizes that. On top of that, we try to report on the stories that tend to escape the regular news. The misuse of statistics is such a topic.”
We all need a critical attitude
“My ambition is to bring about a realization that we all need a critical attitude. Last year I wrote an article on control by numbers in the public sector. For me it was shocking to see that in some cases the work of public sector professionals is reduced to quantitative categories. Not only does an oversupply of numbers not tell us how well the professionals are doing their job, it actually prevents these people from doing it properly. I hope the notion that we don’t need to express everything in numbers will gain ground."
Sanne sounds reasonably optimistic about the future. Anecdotal evidence suggests to her that more people are indeed developing a healthy, critical attitude towards numbers. But her job is far from done. Especially with the possibilities of Big Data, the use of large datasets coupled with powerful algorithms, it is more important than ever to understand the limitations of data. Sanne: “Weapons of Math Destruction’ a book by the mathematician Cathy O’Neil makes it abundantly clear such algorithms are a threat, especially to the most vulnerable in society.”
With the increasing reliance on Big Data in all parts of society, vigilance is key. We are lucky to have Sanne on our side in our defense against Weapons of Math Destruction.
By: Madeleine Kemna