Morrison on Metrics: Lies told by the equals sign

“Equal” rarely means what we think when we collect law department metrics

For the past 500 years, mathematicians and scientists have used symbols, the crucial one being the equals sign. Unusually, we know who invented it and why. Robert Recorde, in 1557, wrote in his treatise, “The Whetstone of Witte: "To avoide the tediouse repetition of these woordes: is equalle to: I will sette as I doe often in woorke use, a paire of paralleles, or gemowe lines of one lengthe: bicause noe .2. thynges, can be moare equalle." This wonderful bit of mathematical history, quaintly recorded, comes from Ian Stewart, writing in the Feb. 13, 2012 online issue of New Scientist.         

We owe thanks to Recorde because we use his sign or its text equivalent all the time. With law department metrics and benchmarks, it is a mainstay. What we often gloss over, however, are the simplifying assumptions that underlie many claims of “equality.”

author image

Rees Morrison

Rees Morrison, Esq. is the founder of General Counsel Metrics, LLC. Based in Princeton, NJ, Rees has for the past 25 years consulted solely to...

Bio and more articles

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.