The importance and the difficulties of measuring society I.

The reality and myth of measurement

The process of measurement was indispensable even in the ancient civilizations. The determination of length, mass, volume and time was crucial for supporting agriculture, construction, and trade. William Thomson (1824–1907), generally referred as Lord Kelvin, famously stated: ”When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.” Frederick Taylor (1856-1915) founded what is called scientific management and adopted measurement of any labor process in the production with the hope of improving productivity. This approach, called taylorism was attacked that it considers workers as cogs in the big machine of the factory, and was famously mocked in Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1932), and in Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936). However, it’s spirit survived. ”Measurement is the first step that leads to control and eventually to improvement. If you can’t measure something, you can’t understand it. If you
can’t understand it, you can’t control it. If you can’t control it, you can’t improve it.”96

The dangerous side of measurements

Donald Campbell (1916-1996) was a social scientist with an extremely broad field of interests. Campbell’s law 97 as it is commonly called, states
”The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”
Charles Goodhart is an economist from the London School of Economics, and a former
member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee stated ”that once a social or economic indicator or other surrogate measure is made a target for the purpose of conducting social or economic policy, then it will lose the information content that would qualify it to play that role.” Goodhart’s law 98 states that ”Any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.”
Managers in every areas from law enforcement to health care, travel to education, have
to report numbers to characterize the performance of their organizations. There are many well-documented examples from the former Soviet Union and related countries, which could be counted as case studies to Campbell’s law. Planners set targets for the factories, emphasizing quantity rather than quality. Directors were judged on whether or not they hit their targets.
Product quality and consumer satisfaction was not a major factor. ”When five-year plans set targets in terms of tonnage, factories made things that were comically heavy—chandeliers that pulled down ceilings and roofing metal that collapsed buildings.”99

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s