OK. You guys are driving me to my blog. It’s why I had Wes set the blog up for me, to get to the bottom of things, at least the bottom I see.
This all started during and after WW II and I refer to it as the triumph of the number crunchers. Robert MacNamara is exhibit #1. Their motto is: if the data is sound, then the conclusions are inescapable. This translates into “only numbers count”. The corollary of that is, “we can only count numbers.” So everything gets reduced to numbers and all reasoning i.e. planning, assessment, evaluation, prognosis, etc. must be derived from the numbers.
What they overlook is that data must be turned into information to be truly useful. Given that the determination and the history of the Viet Namese people could not be quantified, MacNamara could not see it and so concluded that X number of bombs would have Y effect. When it didn’t (that is, they kept coming), he simply figured that there had not been enough “time on task” (another industrial era mantra) and so he just kept bombing.
If you read books on IQ testing you’ll see the progression of reliance on numbers spread over large populations gradually change into using numbers to rank and judge individuals. Again, much of this number crunching has value, but when it is misapplied, it can be extremely destructive precisely b/ naive populations invest the numbers with magical powers. Anyone who questions the numbers is judged anti-science and soft. The word empirical is often invoked, as when DD on the Latin lists says Murray’s Bell Curve conclusion that “races” can be stratified according to IQ based on IQ test scores is simply empirical evidence-based. How can you argue with that?
Now look at your typical high school principal. He was educated in a system that elevated math and science to the level of natural truth. My friend says that the math they teach in school is b.s. and needs to be unlearned when people try to do real math. The science often misses the essence of what science is about and gets reduced to a “bunch o’ facts”. He then went through a college and grad school curriculum which stressed the use of manipulated numbers; nothing else counted as evidence in the assessment of educational outcomes. Then he becomes a teacher where he is rewarded for “getting his numbers up” and goes on to a principalship where he is evaluated solely on his numbers, i.e. his students’ test scores.
Trying to talk to these people about anything else is like arguing with MacNamara. They have authority, money, some power, and no clue as to how the world works. Related to MacNamara, we see the same thinking in the military and the results are clear in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Perhaps it’s my age (69) but I see this evolution very clearly in medicine and psychiatry, in education, in the military, in government, in the economy and financial markets, in construction, in our transportation system and the symbiotic automobile industry, in energy, in our foreign policy, in the media.
In short, what I am saying is that this distortion of statistics, something that drives statisticians crazy, has permeated society. Statistics is a powerful tool and should not be abandoned, but anything powerful must be handled with caution and wisdom. Instead, numbers are used to clobber anyone who disagrees or even questions a policy. NCLB is an perfect example.
My state took years to fashion its high-stakes test to the point where they could begin to deny students who had completed all the requirements their diploma b/c they didn’t pass the tests (AIMS). Has anyone questioned how we know the tests are valid now? If you do, you are accused of being unscientific and blind to the data. Maybe it’s just that you have information they don’t have.