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Pros and Cons of Measurement

Measurement plays an essential role in successful sciences such as physics and chemistry, so it is thought to be a key to progress in other fields. Thus social "scientists" try to mimic physics by focusing on analysis of numerical data. Economists are attracted to mathematical models, often regardless of the accuracy of the assumptions on which they're based. So-called scientific management insists on the importance of measurement, upholding the McKinsey Maxim: "What you can measure you can manage."

On the other hand, Einstein is said to have noted that "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." Moreover, performance metrics tend to distort the activities they measure, as noted by Campbell's Law: "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."

For more on the pitfalls of measurement, see Industrialization and the Rule of Law and Impact of Attending an Elite College on Later Success.



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