Mixing Dürer’s Rhino with Statistics might sound a little bit strange.
But in an epistemological perspective there’s a point. Dürer never saw a Rhinoceros; he created it – in accordance with some information he got- in the process of drawing. Statistics – in a sense – do the same and this even with objects which do not exist in ‘reality’.
This topic is itself an object in several studies. So the Norvegians Rudinow Saetnan, Heidi Mork Lomell and Svein Hammer treat it in their reader ‘The mutual construction of statistics and society‘.
‘How does the act of counting affect the world? How does it change the objects counted, change the lifes of those who count (double entendre intended)? … Our argument, briefly stated, is that society and the statistics that measure and describe it are mutually constructed. This argumcnt addresses two counterarguments from seemingly opposite directions. On the one hand, we oppose the notion that statistics are simple, straighthforward, objective descriptions of society, gathered from nonparticipant points of observation…. Like all othcr specific forms of viewing, it is a social act. Counting acts in and upon the social world. Of course, this also means that not counting has an effect on the aspects of the world we (do and/or don’t) count. ….
On the other hand, we also oppose the notion that statistics and/or society are mere fictions, to bc invented at will.’ (Introduction, p.1)
And in its alltime classic ‘The politics of Large Numbers‘ Alain Desrosières treats the same question: ‘ … it is difficult to think simultaneaously that the objects being measured really do exist, and thatt this is only a convention’ (p.1)
And here’s the real Rhinoceros (Indian rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), Panzernashorn )