ICYMI: The United States of Metrics – NYTimes.com

Nice piece by Bruce Feller on the penchant to measure everything and the quantified self:

Given that everyone faces messiness sooner or later but that everyone also seems to enjoy a bit of data gazing, maybe what’s needed is a fresh way of putting all these numbers in perspective. Curiously, one seems to be at hand, and it’s even got backing from the social scientists: It’s called the law of diminishing returns. Numbers can help, but after a while they become overkill. What we need is a simpler model, something more akin to pass-fail.

“The analogy I would make is diet,” Mr. Watts, of Microsoft Research, said. “If you do a rigorous, exhaustive study of dietary science, I guarantee all you’re going to get is confused. There are thousands of studies out there, and they’re all contradictory. It’s just hopeless. Instead, eat reasonable food, exercise, get a good night’s sleep. After all, you might get hit by a bus tomorrow.”

Mr. Taleb concurs. There are two schools of thought about metrics, he said. You can optimize everything, or you can do what the ancients did and say, “Good enough.”

“Good enough is vastly more rigorous than any metric,” he said, “and it’s more humane, too. Once you reduce a human to a metric, you kill them.”

Or, as the greatest numbers person of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, warned, “Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

The United States of Metrics – NYTimes.com.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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