“Thinginess fails”

Brian Hayes wrote, in American Scientist, in 2002, about Lewis Fry Richardson‘s book Statistics of Deadly Quarrels:

An interesting lesson of Richardson’s exercise is just how difficult it can be to extract consistent and reliable quantitative information from the historical record. It seems easier to count inaccessible galaxies or invisible neutrinos than to count wars that swept through whole nations just a century ago. Of course some aspects of military history are always contentious; you can’t expect all historians to agree on who started a war, or who won it. But it turns out that even more basic facts—Who were the combatants? When did the fighting begin and end? How many died?—can be remarkably hard to pin down. Lots of wars merge and split, or have no clear beginning or end. As Richardson remarks, “Thinginess fails.”