Books et al.Measurement

The fetishization of quantification

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Science  02 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6375, pp. 527
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar6239

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Although the numbers whose "tyranny" forms the subject of Jerry Muller's timely book share some of the attributes of scientific measurement, their purposes are primarily administrative and political. They are designed to be incorporated into systems of what might be called "data-ocracy," often for the sake of public accountability: Schools, hospitals, and corporate divisions whose numbers meet or exceed their goals are to be rewarded, whereas poor numbers, taken to imply underperformance, may bring penalties or even annihilation. In The Tyranny of Metrics, Muller shows how teachers, doctors, researchers, and managers are driven to sacrifice the professional goals they value in order to improve their numbers.