Archive for November, 2013

Comment on Kerrey and Leeds in WSJ

November 20, 2013

Writing in today’s Wall Street Journal, Bob Kerrey and Jeffery T. Leeds note the unintended consequences likely to follow from new higher education regulations proposed by the U.S. Department of Education. Cutting to the chase, Kerrey and Leeds’ key points (emphases added) are that:

  • “Absent innovative, competitive—and, yes, disruptive—pressure to raise quality and lower costs, all the well-intentioned federal regulation in the world will not make college more accessible.”
  • “He [Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan] should insist on real and significant disclosure. Colleges should be required to post their graduation rates, job-placement rates, the average debt of their students upon graduation, their tax status and any and all information that will enable Americans to make informed decisions when choosing a school.”
  • “The department should also work with schools and colleges to address the fundamental causes of rising tuition, and hold schools accountable for student outcomes instead of their debt.”

These are, of course, exactly the themes repeatedly raised in this blog. Measurement quality is unavoidably implicated in holding schools accountable for student outcomes, in enabling consumers to make informed purchasing decisions, and in raising quality and lowering costs.

To meet the challenges we face, measurement quality must be far more than just a matter of precision and rigor. Quality must also speak to relevance, efficiency, and meaningfulness. Recent history has brought home the lesson that annual tests used solely for accountability purposes will not enable rebalanced quality/cost equations, informed consumer decisions, or fair accountability results. But how might these disparate purposes be efficiently and meaningfully realized?

It is essential that, if teachers are to be responsible for student outcomes and for raising the overall quality of education, formative measuring tools must provide the qualitative and quantitative information they need to be able to act responsibly. The irony is, of course, that the way to overcome the problems of a purely summative focus for educational measurement is to measure more! Now, measuring more need not involve devoting more time exclusively to taking tests. Instead, computerized and online assessments are increasingly integrated into instruction so that measures are made in the course of studying (Cheng and Mok, 2007; Wilson, 2004). Measures are thereby continuously updated, and are plotted in growth charts relative to long range outcome goals.

Furthermore, the qualitative information provided by the measurement process is used to inform teachers and students about what comes next in the individualized curriculum, as well as about special strengths and weaknesses. This information has been shown to be unparalleled in its value for advancing learning in the classroom (Black and Wiliam, 1998, 2009; Hattie, 2008).

But formative assessment alone will not be sufficient to the larger tasks of raising quality and lowering costs. For that, systematic quality improvement methods in schools will need to be joined with comparable outcome measures parents and students can use to inform school choice decisions (Fisher, 2013; Lunenberg, 2010).

Kerrey and Leeds rightly seek an infrastructure capable of disruptive effects, of transforming the inflationary economy of education (and health care). To state again a recurring theme in this blog, the command and control hierarchies of regulatory systems can and should be replaced with a metrological infrastructure of common metrics with the scientific, legal, and financial status of common currencies for the exchange of value. Only when such currencies are in place will we be able to set out clear paths for the informed decisions, improved quality, lower costs, and accountability for outcomes that we seek.


Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning. Assessment in Education, 5(1), 7-74.

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009). Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21, 5-31.

Cheng, Y. C., & Mok, M. M. C. (2007). School-based management and paradigm shift in education: An empirical study. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(6), 517-542.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Imagining education tailored to assessment as, for, and of learning: Theory, standards, and quality improvement. Assessment and Learning, 2, in press.

Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning. New York: Routledge.

Lunenberg, F. C. (2010). Total Quality Management applied to schools. Schooling, 1(1), 1-6.

Wilson, M. (Ed.). (2004). Towards coherence between classroom assessment and accountability. (Vol. 103, Part II, National Society for the Study of Education Yearbooks). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Metrology, the Advancement of Science and New Horizons in Psychological Measurement

November 19, 2013

Metrology is the science of measurement as practiced in engineering, physics, chemistry, and biology. Its processes center on the formulation, maintenance, and improvement of unit standards. Of particular interest are methods for establishing and ensuring the traceability of local instruments’ units to standards accepted by consensus as global points of reference. Research in the history, philosophy, and social studies of science over the last 30 years has come to focus on metrology and calibrated instrumentation—along with empirical observation and predictive theory—for their combined value as factors vital to explaining the historical successes of science (Ackermann, 1985; Bud and Cozzens, 1992; Golinski, 2012; Harman, 2009; Hussenot and Missonier, 2010; Kuukkanen, 2011; Latour, 1987, 2005; O’Connell, 1993; van Helden and Hankins, 1994; Wise, 1995).

What makes metrology so vitally important to science? One way of answering this question is to reflect on the longstanding importance assigned to measurement in science. For instance, it is often held that measurement is science, that there could be no science without measurement. Most considerations of measurement, however, have focused on the empirical aspects of data gathering, the theoretical aspects of predictive control, and/or the properties of instruments.

The problem repeatedly encountered in this work involves assumptions of universal generality or of mathematical essences which, when articulated and investigated, cannot be sustained. As one looks more and more closely at what scientists in any given area of research actually do, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the science from a variety of political, legal, economic, social, historical, aesthetic, moral, linguistic, cultural, and religious influences (Bijker, Hughes, and Pinch, 2012; Kuhn, 1970; Latour, 1999, 2013). It ultimately becomes meaningless to try to conceptualize science and measurement in the absence of these influences, since taking them away removes the intrinsic motivations and extrinsic rewards for doing science.

New variations on longstanding empiricist, theoretical, or instrumentalist perspectives have emerged, some independent of (Michell, 2005), and others in response to, these deconstructions (Bloom, 1987, p. 387; Delandshire and Petrosky, 1994, p. 16; Gross and Levitt, 1994, p. 76; Sokal and Bricmont, 1998). These new variations tend to simply dig more deeply into existing positions without realizing that the problem is the problem, which is to say that the way we frame the situation determines to a large extent the applicable solutions.

But it is also true, of course, that the problems encountered at the broad conceptual level are not within the immediate scope of the situations in which working technicians and scientists find themselves. The practical problems of experimental or instrument design, of theorizing, of data gathering and analysis, etc. are all effectively addressed from within each of the metrologically-informed disciplines. That said, training inevitably involves at least implicit lessons in the tacit social, economic, legal, etc. domains impacting research, and experience shows that different skill sets and resources brought to bear are rewarded in what may seem unfair or arbitrary ways. Furthermore, the larger problem is how to understand science well enough to broaden and deepen its scope of application to fields that have not yet achieved the levels of accomplishment obtained in the natural sciences, while being more aware of its limits and risks.

What makes the situation so difficult is that the classic modern separation of subject and object no longer provides a tenable basis for thinking about science. Every time we try to draw a boundary around one sphere of activity, we find that it necessarily entails other spheres, and that it cannot be separated from them without irreparable damage. But what kind of methodology can be adapted to the mutual implication of subject and object? What systematic approaches can be credibly validated when the subject’s marshalling and application of resources to supposedly separately constituted problematic objects itself becomes the problem? How does one enter into the playful flow of unified subjects and objects in a way that is itself recognizably scientific? The situation is fundamentally hermeneutic, in the root mercurial sense of Hermes, the mythological originator of writing, numbers, and dice (Fisher, 2003).

A variety of responses to these problems have emerged in recent years under the headings of one or another kind of realism, such as covariant realism (Crease, 2009), instrumental realism (Ihde, 1991), horizonal realism (Heelan, 1983), and speculative realism (Bryant, Srnicek, and Latour, 2011; also see Kuukkanen, 2011). What do these forms of realism share in common? First, they take an anti-foundationalist perspective that avoids assumptions concerning untestable and unstated mathematical essences. Second, they focus on one form or another of the material practices (the content of communications, behaviors, forms, etc.) enacted by the agents involved in any way in the processes studied. Third, they put all existing things (inanimate, living, and human) in dialogue and on the same footing as regards their capacity to assert their mode of being as having an objective place or role in the real world. Fourth, they recognize the roles played by communications, metrological, transportation, and other kinds of networks as the channels through which objects, communications, effects, resources, etc. travel and are managed.

What is the role of metrology here? As Latour (1987, p. 251) explains,

“Metrology is the name of this gigantic enterprise to make of the outside a world inside which facts and machines can survive.”

“Scientists build their enlightened networks by giving the outside the same paper form as that of their instruments inside. [They can thereby] travel very far without ever leaving home.”

“There is a continuous trail of readings, checklists, paper forms, telephone lines, that tie all the clocks together. As soon as you leave this trail, you start to be uncertain about what time it is, and the only way to regain certainty is to get in touch again with the metrological chains.”

And so, demonstrating or applying the universality of Ohm’s law requires a standard power source and calibrated instrumentation, repairing an engine requires the correct tool set, etc. But a point of vital importance becomes apparent here: the systematic packaging of these standardized parts and processes reduces the costs of manufacturing, implementing, and maintaining them, and of educating technicians about them. The end result of making technical effects universally available is that they are made to seem naturally built into the world around us.

Metrological networks are, then, in effect the primary means by which civilization advances, in the sense referred to by Whitehead (1911, p. 61) as being in opposition to:

“…a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle—they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.”

We accordingly can operate an automobile without understanding how internal combustion engines or disk brakes work, and we can read thermometers without knowing anything about thermodynamics. The question that arises, then, is how civilization might be advanced via psychology and the social sciences: how might we increase the number of important operations in these areas that we can perform without thinking of them?

Almost all state of the art measurement in education, health care, performance assessment, etc. plainly depends entirely on the active participation of people able to think about the important operations that must be performed. Absent skilled experts, state of the art measurement simply does not usually happen in psychology or social sciences research and practice. Even when experts are involved, the complications and expense of high quality measurement are often enough to prevent it from taking place.

Why? Might it be because, with a very limited number of exceptions (Fisher and Stenner, 2013; Stenner and Fisher, 2013) measurement in psychology and the social sciences lacks virtually any methods and traditions concerned at all with metrological traceability? With uniform unit standards? With consensus processes for determining standard product definitions? With the power of metrology for simplifying processes, for reducing costs, for streamlining communication, and for amplifying collective intelligence (Magnus, 2007; Pentland, 2007; Surowiecki, 2004; Woolley, Chabris, Pentland, Hashmi, and Malone, 2010; Woolley and Fuchs, 2011)? Little or no attention is being focused on metrology even in the wake of recent developments that would seem to make its relevance unavoidably evident: networked communications, item banking, instrument equating, adaptive instrument administration, and the predictive control needed for on-the-fly automated item generation. Inevitably, however, increasing pressure to put two and two together will be applied as the human, economic, legal, moral, social, etc. implications of advancing psychological and social measurement technologies become apparent.

Rephrasing the question in Latour’s (1987, 1999, 2005, 2013) terms, how can we create a world in which the facts of psychological and social measurement can survive? What kind of environment would be required to build networks in which the outside world has the same form as the instruments in the laboratory? What kinds of continuous trails can be created to tie all of the literacy measures together, all of the numeracy measures together, all of the relationship quality, physical functioning, and health status measures together? What opportunities for such networks can be envisioned, and are there any approximations of such networks already in place in education, psychology, or the social sciences? And quite importantly, how can the interests of each group of stakeholders in a given area be satisfied and represented? Can divergent and even conflicting interests be productively mediated within and between various organizations and institutions? Can the rules, roles, and responsibilities constituting efficient market economics (Fisher and Stenner, 2011; Hussenot and Missonier, 2010; Miller and O’Leary, 2007) be brought to bear on exchanges of human, social, and natural capital value?

These are difficult questions, and initial reactions to them might assume them to be ill-formed, ungrounded, meaningless, or simply impossible to achieve. Others will see that the potential returns on investments in answers to these questions are huge, and well worth thorough exploration. In any case, conclusive negative results will give clearer assurances about viable paths for productive science and economics than could be obtained if the questions had never been raised at all.


Ackermann, J. R. (1985). Data, instruments, and theory: A dialectical approach to understanding science. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Beges, G., Drnovsek, J., & Pendrill, L. R. (2010). Optimising calibration and measurement capabilities in terms of economics in conformity assessment. Accreditation and Quality Assurance: Journal for Quality, Comparability and Reliability in Chemical Measurement, 15(3), 147-154.

Bijker, W. E., Hughes, T. P., & Pinch, T. (Eds.). (2012). The social construction of technological systems: New directions in the sociology and history of technology. (The Social Construction of Technological Systems). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Bloom, A. (1987). The closing of the American mind: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Bryant, L., Srnicek, N., & Latour, B. (Eds.). (2011). The speculative turn: Continental materialism and realism. Prahran, Victoria, Australia:

Bud, R., & Cozzens, S. E. (Editors). (1992). SPIE Institutes. Vol. 9: Invisible connections: Instruments, institutions, and science (R. F. Potter, Ed.). Bellingham, WA: SPIE Optical Engineering Press.

Crease, R. (2009). Covariant realism. Human Affairs, 19(2), 223-232.

Delandshere, G., & Petrosky, A. R. (1994). Capturing teachers’ knowledge. Educational Researcher, 23(5), 11-18.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2003). Mathematics, measurement, metaphor, metaphysics: Part I. Implications for method in postmodern science. Theory & Psychology, 13(6), 753-790.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011, August 31 to September 2). A technology roadmap for intangible assets metrology. In Fundamentals of measurement science. International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium,, Jena, Germany.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2013). Overcoming the invisibility of metrology: A reading measurement network for education and the social sciences. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 459(012024), doi:10.1088/1742-6596/459/1/012024.

Golinski, J. (2012). Is it time to forget science? Reflections on singular science and its history. Osiris, 27(1), 19-36.

Gross, P. R., & Levitt, N. (1994). Higher superstition: The academic left and its quarrels with science. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Harman, G. (2009). Prince of networks: Bruno Latour and metaphysics. Melbourne, Australia:

Heelan, P. A. (1983). Space perception and the philosophy of science. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Hussenot, A., & Missonier, S. (2010). A deeper understanding of evolution of the role of the object in organizational process. The concept of ‘mediation object.’ Journal of Organizational Change Management, 23(3), 269-286.

Ihde, D. (1991). Instrumental realism: The interface between philosophy of science and philosophy of technology. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Kuhn, T. S. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Kuukkanen, J.-M. (2011). I am knowledge. Get me out of here! On localism and the universality of science. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, 42(4), 590-601.

Latour, B. (1987). Science in action: How to follow scientists and engineers through society. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora’s hope: Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Latour, B. (2013). An inquiry into modes of existence (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Magnus, P. D. (2007). Distributed cognition and the task of science. Social Studies of Science, 37(2), 297-310.

Michell, J. (2005). The logic of measurement: A realist overview. Measurement, 38, 285-294.

Miller, P., & O’Leary, T. (2007, October/November). Mediating instruments and making markets: Capital budgeting, science and the economy. Accounting, Organizations, and Society, 32(7-8), 701-34.

O’Connell, J. (1993). Metrology: The creation of universality by the circulation of particulars. Social Studies of Science, 23, 129-173.

Pentland, A. (2007). On the collective nature of human intelligence. Adaptive Behavior, 15(2), 189-198.

Sokal, A., & Bricmont, J. (1998). Fashionable nonsense: Postmodern intellectuals’ abuse of science. New York: Picador, USA.

Stenner, A. J., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Metrological traceability in the social sciences: An example from reading measurement. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 459(012025), doi:10.1088/1742-6596/459/1/012025.

Surowiecki, J. (2004). The wisdom of crowds: Why the many are smarter than the few and how collective wisdom shapes business, economies, societies and nations. New York: Doubleday.

van Helden, A., & Hankins, T. L. (Eds.). (1994). Instruments (Vol. 9). Osiris: a research journal devoted to the history of science and its cultural influences). Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Whitehead, A. N. (1911). An introduction to mathematics. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Wise, M. N. (1995). Precision: Agent of unity and product of agreement. Part III–“Today Precision Must Be Commonplace.” In M. N. Wise (Ed.), The values of precision (pp. 352-61). Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Woolley, A. W., Chabris, C. F., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010, 29 October). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science, 330, 686-688.

Woolley, A. W., & Fuchs, E. (2011). Collective intelligence in the organization of science. Organization Science, 22(5), 1359-1367.

On the IMEKO 2013 Joint Symposium in Genoa, Italy

November 19, 2013

The most recent instance of the IMEKO (International Measurement Confederation) joint symposium (which now also includes TC-13, the technical committee on measurements in biology and health care, along with TC-1 on Measurement Science and TC-7 on Metrology Education) was held in Genoa, Italy, September 4-6, 2013. The papers presented are available in volume 459 of the Journal of Physics Conference Series at .

Mari and Wilson’s keynote providing a “gentle introduction to Rasch measurement models for metrologists” will be of special interest. Additional Rasch-oriented presentations were made by Maul, Torres-Irribarra, and Wilson; Camargo and Henson; Bezruczko; Stenner; Massof; Stephanou, Pendrill; and Fisher. Readers may also be interested in related work presented by Benoit, Crenna, Rossi, Granovskii, Pavese, Ruhm, Thomas, and others.

An exciting new dialogue between the natural and social sciences is underway. Each has much to learn from the other. Metrology has had little need to attend to the individual-level stochastic processes structuring invariant cognitive and behavioral constructs, and measurement practice in psychology and the social sciences has everything to learn about the value of local traceability to globally uniform units. Everyone interested in contributing to or learning from this dialogue is invited to make their voices heard.

A photo of a majority of the Genoa symposium attendees is available at

A number of presentations involving Rasch measurement models, methods, and results were made at previous IMEKO symposia in Annecy (France), Lisbon (Portugal), London (England), and Jena (Germany) in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011, respectively (Fisher, 2009, 2010, 2011). A paper based on Mark Wilson’s keynote address at the 2011 meeting has recently been published in the IMEKO journal, Measurement (Wilson, 2013).

This journal also has a forthcoming celebration of the work of the late Ludwik Finkelstein in press (volume 46, number 8, pp. 2885-2992). Finkelstein made a large number of foundational contributions to educational and conceptual issues in measurement science, and had a special interest in exploring the possibility of a unified science of measurement applicable across the natural and social sciences (see, for instance, Finkelstein, 2003, 2009, 2010).

Wilson’s keynote at the Jena IMEKO symposium in 2011 was given at the invitation of Luca Mari, an engineer and philosopher of measurement based at the Universite Cattaneo, in Castellanza, Italy. Wilson reciprocated the invitation by bringing Mari to last summer’s International Meeting of the Psychometric Society in Lincoln, Nebraska. Mari gave a well-attended workshop on metrology, and an invited address.

Mari is also be a visiting scholar in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, 18-22 November, 2013. In addition to his contributions to the International Electrotechnical Vocabulary (IEV), Mari is intensely involved in the ongoing revisions to the International Vocabulary of Metrology (known as the VIM; Joint Committee on Guides in Metrology, 2008), especially as this involves efforts continuing Finkelstein’s interest in integrating measurement concepts from all fields into a common frame of reference.


Finkelstein, L. (2003). Widely, strongly and weakly defined measurement. Measurement, 34(1), 39-48(10).

Finkelstein, L. (2009). Widely-defined measurement—An analysis of challenges. Measurement, 42(9), 1270-1277.

Finkelstein, L. (2010). Measurement and instrumentation science and technology-the educational challenges. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 238, doi:10.1088/1742-6596/238/1/012001.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2008). Notes on IMEKO symposium. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 22(1), 1147 [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010). Unifying the language of measurement. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 24(2), 1278-1281  [].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012). 2011 IMEKO conference proceedings available online. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 25(4), 1349 [].

Joint Committee for Guides in Metrology (JCGM/WG 2). (2008). International vocabulary of metrology: Basic and general concepts and associated terms, 3rd ed. Sevres, France: International Bureau of Weights and Measures–BIPM. Accessed 17 October 2013.

Wilson, M. (2013). Using the concept of a measurement system to characterize measurement models used in psychometrics. Measurement, 46, 3766-3774.

On the Criterion Institute’s Leaders Shaping Markets initiative

November 14, 2013

The Criterion Institute’s Leaders Shaping Markets initiative is an encouraging development in large part because of its focus on systems level change. As the Institute recognizes, the questions being raised and the resources being invested are essential to overcoming recurrent problems of fragmentation and marginalization in efforts being made in more piecemeal fashion across a number of other arenas.

Of particular interest from the Institute’s second roundtable session is Joy Anderson’s list of Strategies for Shaping Market Systems. Anderson presents five strategies:

  1. reframing the issues, problems, and boundaries of the system;
  2. engaging systems of power, elegantly;
  3. continuously identifying leverage points in the system;
  4. building structures and leadership for sustained systems-level disruption; and
  5. attending to change over time and across context.

Reframing is the right place to start. As I’ve said elsewhere in this blog, the problem is the problem. At this level of complexity, problems cannot be solved from within the same paradigm they were born from. Conceiving ways of redefining problems that truly reframe the issues and boundaries of a system is hard enough, but implementing them is even harder.

From my point of view, philosophically, the central problem that makes everything so difficult has to do with our deeply ingrained Western habits of thought around not viewing problems and solutions as of a piece, as wholes in which each implies the other. As long as we keep defining problems and solutions in ways that separate them, as though the solution is in no way involved in perpetuating the problem, we are hopelessly stuck.

So we restrict our options for solving problems by the way we frame the issues. And when we misidentify the problem, as when we fail to properly frame it, then we will likely not only not solve it, we will make it worse. That seems to be exactly what’s been going on in the struggle for economic and social justice for decades and centuries.

So if we reframe the problem of shaping markets around the mutual implication of problems and solutions, how do we move to the next step, to engaging systems of power, elegantly? There are a lot of deep and complex philosophical concepts involved here, but we can cut to the chase and note that our language and tools embody problem-solution unities. Social ecologies of relationships define the meanings and uses of things and ideas.

One way of engaging systems of power elegantly to shape markets might then be to harness the power driving those markets in new, more efficient and meaningful ways. The question that then immediately arises concerns the next of Anderson’s five points: where do we find the leverage in the system that would enable the harnessing of its power?

There is likely no greater concentration of power in markets than the profit motive. How might it become the primary lever for engaging the power of the market? We might, for instance, deploy tools and ideas that co-opt the interests of the systems of power by enhancing the predictability of market forces and sustainability of profits. Concentrating now on dwelling within the problem-solution unity of how to shape markets, we can tap into a key factor that makes markets efficient: we manage what we measure, and management is facilitated when we can measure quality and quantity cheaply and easily.

Common currencies for the exchange of value are essential not just to trade and commerce, but also take shape as the standard metrics employed in science, engineering, music, and as the signs and symbols of basic communication. Money is such an easy to manage measure of value that the problems we are addressing here stem in large part from using it too exclusively as a proxy for the authentic wealth we really want. Engaging with systems of power elegantly also then requires us to think in terms of extending the power of standard units of measurement into the new domains of intangible assets: human, social, and natural capital.

This is where we arrive at the structures for sustained system-level disruption. Current economic models and financial spreadsheets focus on the three classic forms of capital: land, labor, and manufactured tools/commodities. (Money, as liquid capital, is fungible relative to all three.) Of these three, we have a metric system for measuring and managing only property and manufactured tools/commodities.

Green economics offers an alternative four-capitals model that adds social capital and reframes land as natural capital and labor as human capital. Both of the latter are found to be far more complex and valuable than their usual reductions to a piece of ground or “hands” would suggest. Human capital involves health, abilities, and motivations; natural capital includes the earth’s air and water purification systems, and food supplies. The addition of social capital is justified on the grounds that, without it, markets are impossible.

What we do not have is a metric system for three of the four forms of capital. Nor do we have the legal and financial systems needed to bring these forms of capital to life in efficient markets, to make them recognized and accepted in banks and courts of law. We further also do not have leaders aware of the need for these structures, and of the established basis in scientific research that makes them viable.

The science is complex and technical, but it brings to bear practical capacities for meaningful, individual level, qualitatively informative and quantitatively rigorous measurement. There is considerable elegance in this method of approaching engagement with the systems of power. There is mathematical beauty in the symmetry and harmony of instruments tuned to the same scales. There is exquisite grace in the way the program for shaping markets grows organically from the seeds of existing markets. The human value of enabling the realization of heretofore unreachable degrees of individual potentials would be enormous, as would be the social value of being able to make returns on investments in education, health care, social services, and the environment accountable.

Successful new markets harnessing the profit motive in the name of socially responsible and sustainable economies well ought to provoke a new cultural renaissance as the proven relationships between higher rates of educational attainment and health, community relations, and environmental quality are born out. The challenges are huge, but properly framing the problems and their solutions will unify our energies in common purpose like never before, bringing joy to the effort.

For further reading along these lines, see:

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011, August 31 to September 2). A technology roadmap for intangible assets metrology. In Fundamentals of measurement science. International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium,, Jena, Germany.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009). NIST Critical national need idea White Paper: metrological infrastructure for human, social, and natural capital. Washington, DC: National Institute for Standards and Technology,

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2011, January). Metrology for the social, behavioral, and economic sciences (Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences White Paper Series). Washington, DC: National Science Foundation,

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012, May/June). What the world needs now: A bold plan for new standards [Third place, 2011 NIST/SES World Standards Day paper competition]. Standards Engineering, 64(3), 1 & 3-5, or

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009, November). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement, 42(9), 1278-1287, http://doi:10.1016/j.measurement.2009.03.014

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2011). Bringing human, social, and natural capital to life: Practical consequences and opportunities. Journal of Applied Measurement, 12(1), 49-66,

Fisher, W. P. J. (2010). Measurement, reduced transaction costs, and the ethics of efficient markets for human, social, and natural capital. Qualifying Paper, Bridge to Business Postdoctoral Certification, Freeman School of Business, Tulane University,