Measuring Ourselves to Death
By Amy Willis
What is the appropriate relationship between judgments and measurement? Is it not the case that “if it matters, you can measure it?” In this episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed historian Jerry Muller to talk about his book, The Tyranny of Metrics.
Is your work evaluated based on metrics? If so, do you find such evaluation reliable? Are you worried about the reliance on standardized tests at your kids’ schools? Is crime over- or under-reported in your area, and how would you know? These are just a few of the issues Roberts and Muller discuss.
1. What is the “tyranny of metrics,” according to Muller? Under what circumstances are metrics useful?2. How have metrics affected the way both teachers and students are evaluated in K-12 schools? What are the intended and unintended consequences? To what extent can or ought judgment be used instead?
3. How has the use of metrics (especially in technologies like CompStat) influenced policing? Do you think the consequences of this particular reliance on metrics is intended or unintended? Why? What does it mean to “game metrics through reclassification?”
4. What are the costs of transparency in government? Are there some areas where transparency is not to be desired? (Note Muller’s concern with what he calls “the cult of Snowden.”)