On the alleged difficulty of quantifying this or that

That this effect or that phenomenon is “difficult to quantify” is one of those phrases that people use from time to time. But, you know, building a computer is difficult, too. I couldn’t do it, and you probably couldn’t, either. Computers are, however, readily available for purchase and it doesn’t matter if you or I can make our own.

Same thing with measurement. Of course, instrument design and calibration are highly technical endeavors, and despite 80+ years of success, most people seem to think it is impossible to really quantify abstract things like abilities, attitudes, motivations,  trust, outcomes and impacts, or maturational development. But real quantification, the kind that is commonly thought possible only for physical things, has been underway in psychology and the social sciences for a long time. More people need to know this.

As anyone who has read much of this blog knows, I’m not talking about some kind of simplistic survey or assessment process that takes measurement to be a mere assignment of numbers to observations. Instrument calibration takes a lot more thought and effort than is usually invested in it. But it isn’t impossible, not by a long shot.

Just as you would not despair of ever having your own computer just because you cannot make one yourself, those who throw up their hands at the supposed difficulty of quantifying something need to think again. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and scientifically rigorous methods of determining whether something is measurable are a lot more ready to hand than most people realize.

For more information, see my survey design recommendations on pages 1,072-4 at http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt203.pdf and Ben Wright’s 15 steps to measurement at http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt141g.htm.

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