Archive for the ‘measurement’ Category

Measurement Choices in Sustainable Development

June 28, 2020

Dividing Us, or Unifying Us?

Showing the Way, or Leading Astray?

Sustainable development measurement choices have significant effects on our capacities to coordinate and manage our efforts. The usual approach to sustainability metrics requires that all parties comparing impacts use the same indicators. Communities or organizations using different metrics are not comparable. Applications of the metrics to judge progress or to evaluate the effects of different programs focus on comparing results from individual indicators. The indicators with the biggest differences are the areas in which accomplishments are rewarded, or failings provoke rethinking.

A number of scientific and logical problems can be identified in this procedure, and these will be taken up in due course. At the moment, however, let us only note that advanced scientific modeling approaches to measuring sustainable development do not require all parties to employ the same indicators, since different sets of indicators can be made comparable via instrument equating and item banking methods. And instead of focusing on differences across indicators, these alternative approaches use the indicators to map the developmental sequence. These maps enable end users to locate and orient themselves relative to where they have been, where they want to go, and where to go next on their sustainability journey.

Separating sustainable development efforts into incommensurable domains becomes a thing of the past when advanced scientific modeling approaches are used. At the same time, these modeling approaches also plot navigable maps of the sustainability terrain.

Scientific modeling of sustainability measures offer other advantages, as well.

  • First, scientific measures always contextualize reported quantities with a standard error term, whereas typical metrics are reported as though they are perfectly precise, with no uncertainty.
  • Second, scientific measures are calibrated as interval measures on the basis of predictive theory and experimental evidence, whereas sustainability metrics are typically ordinal counts of events (persons served, etc.), percentages, or ratings.
  • Third, scientific measures summarize multiple indicators in a single quantity and uncertainty term, with no loss of information, whereas sustainability metrics are often reported as large volumes of numbers.

The advantages of investing in a scientific measurement modeling approach follow from its combination of general comparability across data sets, the mapping of the thing measured, the reporting of uncertainty terms, the interval quantity, and the removal of the information overload.

For more information, see other entries in this blog and:

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2007, Summer). Living capital metrics. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 21(1), 1092-1093 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt211.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012, June 1). 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 [http://ssrn.com/abstract=2083975].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012). Measure and manage: Intangible assets metric standards for sustainability. In J. Marques, S. Dhiman & S. Holt (Eds.), Business administration education: Changes in management and leadership strategies (pp. 43-63). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2013). Imagining education tailored to assessment as, for, and of learning: Theory, standards, and quality improvement. Assessment and Learning, 2, 6-22.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2020). Measurements toward a future SI: On the longstanding existence of metrology-ready precision quantities in psychology and the social sciences. In G. Gerlach & K.-D. Sommer (Eds.), SMSI 2020 Proceedings (pp. 38-39). Wunstorf, Germany: AMA Service GmbH. Retrieved from https://www.smsi-conference.com/assets/Uploads/e-Booklet-SMSI-2020-Proceedings.pdf

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2020). Measuring genuine progress: An example from the UN Millennium Development Goals project. Journal of Applied Measurement, 21(1), 110-133

Fisher, W. P., Jr., Pendrill, L., Lips da Cruz, A., Felin, A., &. (2019). Why metrology? Fair dealing and efficient markets for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1379(012023). doi:10.1088/1742-6596/1379/1/012023

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2016). Theory-based metrological traceability in education: A reading measurement network. Measurement, 92, 489-496. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263224116303281

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2017, September 18). Towards an alignment of engineering and psychometric approaches to uncertainty in measurement: Consequences for the future. 18th International Congress of Metrology, 12004, 1-9. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1051/metrology/201712004

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2018). Ecologizing vs modernizing in measurement and metrology. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 1044(012025), [http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/1044/1/012025].

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Wilson, M. (2015). Building a productive trading zone in educational assessment research and practice. Pensamiento Educativo: Revista de Investigacion Educacional Latinoamericana, 52(2), 55-78. Retrieved from https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2688260

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Wilson, M. (2020). An online platform for sociocognitive metrology: The BEAR Assessment System Software. Measurement Science and Technology, 31(034006). Retrieved from https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1361-6501/ab5397/meta

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Wright, B. D. (Eds.). (1994). Applications of probabilistic conjoint measurement. International Journal of Educational Research, 21(6), 557-664.

Lips da Cruz, A., Fisher, W. P. J., Felin, A., & Pendrill, L. (2019). Accelerating the realization of the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals through metrological multi-stakeholder interoperability. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1379(012046).

Mari, L., & Wilson, M. (2014, May). An introduction to the Rasch measurement approach for metrologists. Measurement, 51, 315-327. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263224114000645

Mari, L., & Wilson, M. (2020). Measurement across the sciences [in press]. Cham: Springer.

Pendrill, L. (2019). Quality assured measurement: Unification across social and physical sciences. Cham: Springer

Pendrill, L., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Counting and quantification: Comparing psychometric and metrological perspectives on visual perceptions of number. Measurement, 71, 46-55. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.measurement.2015.04.010

Pendrill, L., & Petersson, N. (2016). Metrology of human-based and other qualitative measurements. Measurement Science and Technology, 27(9), 094003. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1088/0957-0233/27/9/094003

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2016). Preface: 2016 IMEKO TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium: Metrology across the Sciences: Wishful Thinking? Journal of Physics Conference Series, 772(1), 011001. Retrieved from http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/772/1/011001/pdf

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2019). Preface of special issue, Psychometric Metrology. Measurement, 145, 190. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/measurement/special-issue/10C49L3R8GT

Wilson, M., Mari, L., Maul, A., & Torres Irribara, D. (2015). A comparison of measurement concepts across physical science and social science domains: Instrument design, calibration, and measurement. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 588(012034), http://iopscience.iop.org/1742-6596/588/1/012034.

Distinguishing old and new ways of thinking to solve problems of sustainable development

May 23, 2020

What is the key difference between the old and new ways of thinking?

A well-established body of research in developmental psychology documents two crucial points. The first concerns a series of qualitative gestalt shifts in the complexity of thinking. We usually think of these as happening only during childhood, but it is clear that as many of these shifts happen during adulthood as when we are children. The second is that thinking does not occur only in the brain; rather thinking is structured by standardized technologies like alphabets, writing, spoken pronunciations, and scientific instruments. As the quality and meaningfulness of these technologies changes, so does thinking.

As is well known, the world today is stuck in a modernizing mode where disconnection and alienation are the norm. This level of thinking focuses on individuals and assumes that sustainability problems can only ever be solved by educating and motivating individuals to do the right thing. And so, contrary to our own stated aims and purposes, we try to overcome disconnection and alienation using the tools of disconnection and alienation!

The gestalt shift taking place in the world today is transforming thinking by realizing the importance of keeping individual mental processes connected to each other through common languages. Now, instead of focusing only on individuals, we take the trouble to structure the social environment with new communications standards. The medium is still the message. We need shared tools for managing sustainable development.

In exactly the same way that the metric system SI Unit standards are embedded deeply into every area of life, from science to law to business to economics to education to real estate to health care, etc., so, too, must new unit standards be created and disseminated for human, social, and natural capital. In exactly the same way that everyday language pragmatically embodies unrealistic conceptual universals in standardized words in order to negotiate local communications about things, so, too, must we figure out how to do this with a new kind of organically emergent autopoietic language. We will overcome disconnection and alienation only by organizing ourselves socially in relationships mediated by this kind of a new knowledge infrastructure and information ecosystem embodying our values of interconnection and togetherness.

This is the work we are doing at INNORBIS, RISE, TIES, and Living Capital Metrics.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.
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Remarks on a Survey Concerning Results Replications in Psychology

May 22, 2020

(The following reply was sent in response to an invitation from researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia to participate in a survey on the replication crisis in psychology.)

Thank you for alerting me to your important survey, and for providing an opportunity to address issues of results replications in psychology. Given the content of the survey, it seems appropriate to offer an alternative perspective on the nature of the situation.

Initially, I had a look at the first question in your survey on the replication crisis in psychology and closed the page. It does not seem to me the question can be properly answered given the information provided. Later I went back and responded as reasonably as I could, given the entire survey is biased toward the standard misconceptions of psychological measurement, namely, that ordinal scores gathered with the aim of applying descriptive statistics are definitive, and that quantitative methods have no need for hypotheses, models, proofs, or evidence of meaningful interval units of comparison.

To my mind, the replication crisis in psychology is in part a function of ignoring the distinction between statistical models and scientific models (Cohen, 1994; Duncan, 1992; Fisher, 2010b; Meehl, 1967; Michell, 1986; Wilson, 2013a; Zhu, 2012). The statistical motivation for making models probabilistic concerns sampling; the scientific motivation concerns the individual response process. As Duncan and Stenbeck (1988, pp. 24-25) put it,

“The main point to emphasize here is that the postulate of probabilistic response must be clearly distinguished in both concept and research design from the stochastic variation of data that arises from random sampling of a heterogeneous population. The distinction is completely blurred in our conventional statistical training and practice of data analysis, wherein the stochastic aspects of the statistical model are most easily justified by the idea of sampling from a population distribution. We seldom stop to wonder if sampling is the only reason for making the model stochastic. The perverse consequence of doing good statistics is, therefore, to suppress curiosity about the actual processes that generate the data.”

This distinction between scientific and statistical models is old and worn. It often seems that the mainstream will never pick up on it, despite the fact that, insofar as the individual-level response process’s sum of counts or ratings is treated inferentially as a sufficient statistic (i.e., as a score to which no outside information is added), then an identified scientific measurement model of a particular form is assumed, whether or not the researcher/analyst is aware of it or actually applies it (Andersen, 1977, 1999; Fischer, 1981; San Martin, Gonzalez, & Tuerlinckx, 2009).

Forty-three years ago, the situation was described by Wright (1977, p. 114):

“Unweighted scores are appropriate for person measurement if and only if what happens when a person responds to an item can be usefully approximated by a Rasch model…. Ironically, for anyone who claims skepticism about ‘the assumptions’ of the Rasch model, those who use unweighted scores are, however unwittingly, counting on the Rasch model to see them through. Whether this is useful in practice is a question not for more theorizing, but for empirical study.”

Insofar as measurement results are replicable, they converge on a common construct and unit definition, and support collective learning processes, the coherence of communities of research and practice, and the emergence of metrological standards (Barbic, et al., 2019; Cano, et al., 2019; Fisher, 1997a/b, 2004, 2009, 2010a, 2012, 2017a; Fisher & Stenner, 2016; Mari & Wilson, 2014, 2020; Pendrill, 2014, 2019; Pendrill & Fisher, 2015; Wilson, 2013b).

Researchers’ subjective guesses as to what measured constructs look like and how they behave tend to be borne out, more or less, in ways that allow us all to learn from each other, if and when we take the trouble to prepare, scale, and present our results in the form required to make that happen (for guidance in this regard, see Fisher & Wright, 1994; Smith, 2005; Stone, Wright, & Stenner, 1999; Wilson, 2005, 2009, 2018; Wilson, et al., 2012; Wright & Stone, 1979, 1999, 2003).

You would never know it from the kind of research assumed in your online survey, but the successful replication of results naturally should and does lead to the detailed mapping of variables (constructs), and the definition of unit standards that bring the thing measured into language as common metrics and shared objects of reference.

This is not a new idea, or an unproven one (Luce & Tukey, 1964; Narens & Luce, 1986; Rasch, 1960; Thurstone, 1928; Wright, 1997; among many others). Proofs of the form of the model following from the sufficiency of the scores are cited above, and experimental proofs of the utility of the models for designing and calibrating interval unit measures are provided in thousands of peer reviewed publications. Explanatory scientific models predicting item calibrations have been in development and practical in use for decades (Embretson, 2010; Fischer, 1973; Latimer, 1982; Prien, 1989; Stenner & Smith, 1982; Stenner, et al., 2013; Wright & Stone, 1979; among many others).

Preconceptions and unexamined assumptions about measurement blind many researchers and limit their vision of what’s possible to conventional repetitions of more of the same, even when the methods used do not work and have been shown ineffectual repeatedly for decades. In this regard, it is worth noting, contra widespread assumptions, that another difference between statistical and scientific models is the reductionist whole-is-the-sum-of-the-parts perspective of the former, and the emergent whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-the-parts perspective of the latter (Fisher, 2004, 2017b, 2019b; Fisher & Stenner, 2018). In contrast to the lack of vision and imagination resulting from the myopia of statistical methods, I think it is essential that we seek a capacity to extend everyday language so as to inform locally situated dialogues and negotiations via the mediations of meaningful common metrics integrating concrete things with formal concepts, as has been routinely the case in a wide range of applications for quite some time (Chien, et al., 2009; Masters, 1994; Masters, et al., 1994, 1999; Wilson, 2018; Wilson, et al, 2012; Wright, et al., 1980; among many others).

Sweden’s national metrology institute (the Research Institute of Sweden, RISE) is aggressively taking up research in this domain (Cano, et al., 2019; Fisher, 2019a; Pendrill, 2014, 2019; Pendrill & Fisher, 2015), as are a number of other national metrology institutes globally who have been involved over the last decade in the meetings of the International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO; Fisher, 2008, 2010c, 2012a). An IMEKO Joint Symposium hosted by myself and Mark Wilson at UC Berkeley in 2016 had nearly equal numbers of psychometricians and metrology engineers (Wilson & Fisher, 2016). This and later Joint Symposia have included enough full length papers for special issues of IMEKO’s Measurement journal (Wilson & Fisher, 2018, 2019).

Though psychology and the social sciences seem hopelessly stuck on continued use of statistical significance tests and ordinal scores as the paradigm of measurement, having garnered the attention of metrologists, a sound basis has emerged for hope that new directions will be explored on broader scales and to greater depths. The new partnerships being sought out and research initiatives being proposed at RISE, for instance, promise to enhance awareness across fields as to the challenges and opportunities at hand.

References

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Andersen, E. B. (1999). Sufficient statistics in educational measurement. In G. N. Masters & J. P. Keeves (Eds.), Advances in measurement in educational research and assessment (pp. 122-125). New York: Pergamon.

Andrich, D. (2010). Sufficiency and conditional estimation of person parameters in the polytomous Rasch model. Psychometrika, 75(2), 292-308.

Barbic, S., Cano, S. J., Tee, K., & Mathias, S. (2019). Patient-centered outcome measurement in psychiatry: How metrology can optimize health services and outcomes. TMQ_Techniques, Methodologies and Quality, 10(Special Issue on Health Metrology), 10-19.

Cano, S., Pendrill, L., Melin, J., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2019). Towards consensus measurement standards for patient-centered outcomes. Measurement, 141, 62-69.

Chien, T.-W., Wang, W.-C., Wang, H.-Y., & Lin, H.-J. (2009). Online assessment of patients’ views on hospital performances using Rasch model’s KIDMAP diagram. BMC Health Services Research, 9, 135.

Cohen, J. (1994). The earth is round (p < 0.05). American Psychologist, 49, 997-1003.

Duncan, O. D. (1992, September). What if? Contemporary Sociology, 21(5), 667-668.

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Fisher, W. P., Jr. (1997b). What scale-free measurement means to health outcomes research. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation State of the Art Reviews, 11(2), 357-373.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2004). Meaning and method in the social sciences. Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy and the Social Sciences, 27(4), 429-454.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2008). Notes on IMEKO symposium. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 22(1), 1147 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt221.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement, 42(9), 1278-1287.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010a). The standard model in the history of the natural sciences, econometrics, and the social sciences. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 238(012016).

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010b). Statistics and measurement: Clarifying the differences. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 23(4), 1229-1230  [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt234.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2010c). Unifying the language of measurement. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 24(2), 1278-1281  [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt242.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012a). 2011 IMEKO conference proceedings available online. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 25(4), 1349 [http://www.rasch.org/rmt/rmt254.pdf].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2012b, June 1). 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 [http://ssrn.com/abstract=2083975].

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2017a). Metrology, psychometrics, and new horizons for innovation. 18th International Congress of Metrology, Paris, 09007. doi: 10.1051/metrology/201709007

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2017b). A practical approach to modeling complex adaptive flows in psychology and social science. Procedia Computer Science, 114, 165-174. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2017.09.027

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2018). Update on Rasch in metrology. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 32(1), 1685-1687.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2019a). News from Sweden’s National Metrology Institute. Rasch Measurement Transactions, 32(3), 1719-1723.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2019b). A nondualist social ethic: Fusing subject and object horizons in measurement. TMQ–Techniques, Methodologies, and Quality [Special Issue on Health Metrology], 10, 21-40.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2016). Theory-based metrological traceability in education: A reading measurement network. Measurement, 92, 489-496.

Fisher, W. P., Jr., & Stenner, A. J. (2018). On the complex geometry of individuality and growth: Cook’s 1914 ‘Curves of Life’ and reading measurement. Journal of Physics Conference Series, 1065, 072040.

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Green, K. E., & Smith, R. M. (1987). A comparison of two methods of decomposing item difficulties. Journal of Educational Statistics, 12(4), 369-381.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at livingcapitalmetrics.wordpress.com.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.livingcapitalmetrics.com.

Imagination, Intellect, and Envisioning New Horizons

May 5, 2020

Imagination is more important than intellect, but if intellect does not provide the needed logical structures, imaginative capacities are overly constrained. The problems we face today cannot be solved with the same kind of thinking that created them, but clarity on what counts as a new kind of thinking is sorely lacking. My work articulates a developmental sequence of increasingly complex logical types distinguishing qualitatively different kinds of thinking within which imaginative new possibilities for life can be conceived, gestated, midwifed, and nurtured.

 Personal Statement

  1. My research focuses on theory and methods related to the quality of measurement information and communication. Peer reviewed publications and research products with which I have been involved span the full range from theoretical and philosophical to experimental and practical studies. I have worked in substantive research across education and health care, from clinical laboratory studies of low vision, heart failure, and diabetes to patient-reported outcomes, to parent and employee surveys, to learning progressions in reading and mathematics education, and in innovative studies of mindfulness practice, metaphor, and pastoral care. I am as informed and well-versed in hands-on research and instrument design, calibration, and psychometric data analysis as I am in philosophy and the history of science.
  2. A primary focus of my work is on demonstrating a basis for reference standard units of measurement for instruments calibrated from ordinal observations. Contrary to popular belief, different instruments intended to measure the same thing often can be meaningfully and usefully equated to a shared quantitative scale, and could be made traceable to a new class of technical standards. Science is very much about the accumulation of knowledge, but relating new knowledge to old is unnecessarily complex and inefficient when instrument quality varies in unknown and uncontrolled ways, and when even high quality information is expressed in incommensurable units. A key issue concerns the ways in which qualitative idiosyncratic individual-level data are contextualized, not homogenized, by quantitative scales.
  3. A number of colleagues in psychometrics have followed my lead in initiating a dialogue with metrology engineers and physicists around the value for education and health care research and practice that could be created if more effort was invested in instrument traceability to unit standards. To this end, I have participated in every (eight) International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) Joint Symposium since 2008, as well as in the 2015 and 2018 IMEKO World Congresses, and in the 2017 and 2019 International Metrology Congresses in Paris. I have facilitated a significant degree of psychometrician involvement in these conferences since 2009, and co-hosted with Mark Wilson an IMEKO Joint Symposium at the University of California, Berkeley, in August, 2016 featuring nearly equal numbers of psychometric and metrology participants. At the 2018 IMEKO World Congress in Belfast, Mark Wilson and I organized the first ever special session focused on psychometric metrology.
  4. My current efforts focus on how to make sustainable development economically self-sustaining, in the sense of using metrologically traceable instruments measuring human, social, and natural capital to lower market transaction costs conceived as matters of value for life in multilevel ecosystems. Making what works measureable in this way is the means by which effective innovations can be scaled up to viral contagions of communicable caring. The challenges in this work are truly huge, as efficient markets require not only significant investments in a new science but also in the creation of the new rules, roles, and responsibilities associated with legal ownership, quality assurance, regulatory, management, clinical, educational, and accounting standards for, shares in the stocks of these intangible assets. The daunting magnitude of the challenges is complemented by the urgency of the need to act, by the historic precedents framing the effectiveness of the relevant models and methods, and by the beauty, ethics, and human values that inspire and motivate diligent and energetic mobilization.

 

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Mission Statement

September 1, 2019

I aim to activate the subtle background effects of everyday language on habits of mind…

  • to promote universal access to tangible quality of life returns on investments of love and care in mutual understanding;
  • to be able to see ourselves in each other and in the world at large;
  • to follow through on Diotima’s lesson to Socrates on how beauty teaches us to understand meaning;
  • to live out a musical analogy celebrating individual creativity and improvisation in a context of instruments tuned to shared scales;
  • to artfully create media projecting collectively self-organized, emergent, socially contagious, and virally communicable innovations;
  • to incorporate the pragmatic idealism of the Parthenon’s democratic image of unique citizens united in common cause;
  • to extend applications of the model of natural selection’s massive experimentations from biological to social forms of life;
  • to embrace uncertainty and imperfection, relinquishing illusions of error-free precision in favor of continuous improvement;
  • to connect local representations in broad and multilevel relational ecosystems, abandoning isolated and decontextualized representations falsely obscuring understanding and alienating potential allies and creative partners;
  • to embody accessible and meaningful symbols of complex interdependence in everyday and widely used tools;
  • to advance civilization, following Whitehead, by facilitating wide distribution of a new class of tools’ technical operations; and doing so
  • by taking the scales of justice seriously as a symbol of equity and fairness, employing stochastic multilevel forms of it in mathematical and substantive models of human, social, and environmental relationships;
  • by means of poetic metaphors captivating imaginations by resonating with shared values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness;
  • via models of inclusion and empowerment formatively guiding individual and organizational learning;
  • by conceiving and implementing multilevel knowledge infrastructures contextualizing individuality in collective expressions that are in turn contextualized by explanatory models;
  • by accepting mathematics and interpretation as existing together side by side along the entire continuum of quantitative and qualitative expressions;
  • by transforming hidden background assumptions as to learning, sustainability, and development into explicit objects of operations embodied in multilevel shared metrics;
  • by separating and balancing the executive, legislative, and judicial powers at every level of complexity;
  • by not trying to negate or remove subjectivity but by putting it on the table in relation to others’ subjectivities and to objectively reproducible expressions;
  • by recognizing technologies as embodiments of the id’s unconscious subjectivities instrumentally mediating measures of the ego’s objective data and the superego’s judicial theory;
  • by extending the semiotic triangle’s thing-word-concept assemblages from everyday language into science’s data-instrument-theory assemblages;
  • by extending natural science’s loosely coupled, convergent-divergent communities of experimentalists, metrologists, and theoreticians into the social sciences and psychology;
  • by proliferating the propagation of representations across media to coordinate and align ecosystem alliances within and between varied social forms of life (economic, legal, financial, governmental, technical, regulatory, scientific, operational, managerial, educational, clinical, etc.);
  • by addressing problems of human suffering, social discontent, and environmental degradation via all of the above.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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New work in progress

July 12, 2019

New work in progress

Commons and Goodheart (2008) point out that countries and societies functioning at a metasystematic level of hierarchical complexity, such as those countries in North America and Europe, have not conceptualized or implemented policies and practices allowing for the free expression of individual differences (also see Commons & Duong, 2019; Commons & Goodheart, 2007; Ross, 2008; Ross & Commons, 2008). The “one size fits all” ethos applies across a wide range of educational, healthcare, legal, managerial, market, governance, and social service institutions.

Though there are many local limited exceptions to this rule—as when customized formative and general summative assessments are integrated in education—they tend to be shaped by individual personalities and circumstances. A positive response to the question as to the possibility of a paradigmatic level society (Ross, 2008) then hinges in part on a capacity for contextualizing concrete individual differences within abstract shared languages conceptually determined by formal explanatory models that are themselves contextualized by institutional systems integrated across institutions. This capacity for multilevel contextualization is supplied by sociolinguistic ecosystems of metrologically traceable instruments calibrated to well-defined unit standards.

Following on Sen’s (1999, 2009) conceptions of deliberative justice and of development as freedom, and relevant critiques of those conceptions (Arun, 2018; Gasper, 2000; Navarro, 2000; Zheng & Stahl, 2011), sustainable policies and practices will liberate individual creativity and self expression by separating and balancing concrete executive, abstract legislative, and formal judicial functions at every level of hierarchical complexity, from the individual to the global, and not just at the levels of local, regional, and national government.

This simultaneous realization of a universal sense of participation and belonging in global humanity and a personal sense of unique individuality as a singular human is both necessary and sufficient to the challenges of sustainable prosperity. In accord with Bächtiger and Parkinson (2019), it is agreed that “deliberation must be understood as contingent, performative, and distributed;” “that deliberation needs to be disentangled from other communicative modes; that appropriate tools need to be deployed at the right level of analysis; and that scholars need to be clear about whether they are making additive judgements or summative ones.”

This paper complements and augments Bächtiger and Parkinson’s “new agenda and new empirical tools for deliberative empirical scholarship at the micro, meso, and macro levels” by bringing the mathematical and experimental proofs, research evidence, and explanatory models of measurement science to bear.

Arun, M. O. (2018). Beyond the conventional-A sociological criticism of Sen’s capability approach. Journal of Economy Culture and Society, (58), 229-245.

Bächtiger, A., & Parkinson, J. (2019). Mapping and measuring deliberation: Towards a new deliberative quality. Oxford University Press.

Commons, M. L., & Duong, T. Q. (2019). Understanding terrorism: A behavioral developmental approach. Ethics, Medicine and Public Health, 8, 74-96.

Commons, M. L., & Goodheart, E. A. (2007). Consider stages of development in preventing terrorism: Does government building fail and terrorism result when developmental stages of governance are skipped? Journal of Adult Development, 14(3-4), 91-111.

Commons, M. L., & Goodheart, E. A. (2008). Cultural progress is the result of developmental level of support. World Futures, 64(5-7), 406-415.

Gasper, D. (2000). Development as freedom: Taking economics beyond commodities—the cautious boldness of Amartya Sen. Journal of International Development: The Journal of the Development Studies Association, 12(7), 989-1001.

Navarro, V. (2000). Development and quality of life: A critique of Amartya Sen’s development as freedom. International Journal of Health Services, 30(4), 661-674.

Ross, S. N. (2008). A future society functioning at the paradigmatic stage? World Futures, 64(5-7), 554-562.

Ross, S. N., & Commons, M. L. (2008). Applying hierarchical complexity to political development. World Futures, 64(5-7), 480-497.

Sen, Amartya (1999). Development as Freedom. New York: Knopf.

Sen, A. K. (2009). The idea of justice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Zheng, Y., & Stahl, B. C. (2011). Technology, capabilities and critical perspectives: What can critical theory contribute to Sen’s capability approach? Ethics and Information Technology, 13(2), 69-80.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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IMEKO Joint Symposium in St. Petersburg, Russia, 2-5 July 2019

June 26, 2019

The IMEKO Joint Symposium will be next week, 2-5 July, at the Original Sokos Hotel Olympia Garden, located at Batayskiy Pereulok, 3А, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Kudos to Kseniia Sapozhnikova, Giovanni Rossi, Eric Benoit, and the organizing committee for putting together such an impressive program, which is posted at: https://imeko19-spb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Program-of-the-Symposium.pdf

Presentations on measurement across the sciences from metrology engineers and psychometricians from around the world will include: Andrich, Cavanagh, Fitkov-Norris, Huang, Mari, Melin, Nguyen, Oon, Powers, Salzberger, Wilson, and multiple other co-authors, including Adams, Cano, Maul, Pendrill, and more.

For background on this rapidly developing new conversation on measurement across the sciences, see the references listed at bottom below. The late Ludwig Finkelstein, editor of IMEKO’s Measurement journal from 1982 to 2000, was a primary instigator of work in this area. At the 2010 Joint Symposium he co-hosted in London, Finkelstein said: “It is increasingly recognised that the wide range and diverse applications of measurement are based on common logical and philosophical principles and share common problems” (Finkelstein, 2010, p. 2). The IMEKO Joint Symposium continues to advance in the direction foreseen by Finkelstein.

Topics to be addressed include a round table discussion on the topic “Terminology issues related to expanding boundaries of measurements” chaired by Mari and Chunovkina.

Paper titles include:

Andrich on “Exemplifying natural science measurement in the social sciences with Rasch measurement theory”

Benoit, et al. on “Musical instruments for the measurement of autism sensory disorders”

Budylina and Danilov on “Methods to ensure the reliability of measurements in the age of Industry 4.0”

Cavanagh, Asano-Cavanagh, and Fisher on “Natural semantic metalanguage as an approach to measuring meaning”

Crenna and Rossi on “Squat biomechanics in weightlifting: Foot attitude effects”

Fisher, Pendrill, Lips da Cruz, and Felin on “Why metrology? Fair dealing and efficient markets for the UN SDGs”

Fisher and Wilson on “The BEAR Assessment System Software as a platform for developing and applying UN SDG metrics”

Fitkov-Norris and Yeghiazarian on “Is context the hidden spanner in the works of educational measurement: Exploring the impact of context on mode of learning preferences”

Gavrilenkov, et al. on “Multicriteria approach to design of strain gauge force transducers”

Grednovskaya, et al. on “Measuring non-physical quantities in the procedures of philosophical practice”

Huang, Oon, and Fisher on “Coherence in measuring student evaluation of teaching: A new paradigm”

Katkov on “The status of and prospects for development of voltage quantum standards”

Kneller and Fayans on “Solving interdisciplinary tasks: The challenge and the ways to surmount it”

Kostromina and Gnedykh on “Problems and prospects of complex psychological phenomena measurement”

Lips da Cruz, Fisher, Pendrill, and Felin on “Accelerating the realization of the UN SDGs through metrological multi-stakeholder interoperability”

Lyubimtsev, et al. on “Measuring systems designed for working with living organisms as biosensors: Features of their metrological maintenance”

Mari, Chunovkina, and Ehrlich on “The complex concept of quantity in the past and (possibly) the future of the International Vocabulary of Metrology”

Mari, Maul, and Wilson on “Can there be one meaning of ‘measurement’ across the sciences?”

Melin, Pendrill, Cano, and the EMPIR NeuroMET 15HLT04 Consortium on “Towards patient-centred cognition metrics”

Morrison and Fisher on “Measuring for management in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics learning ecosystems”

Nguyen on “The feasibility of using an international common reading progression to measure reading across languages: A case study of the Vietnamese language”

Nguyen, Nguyen, and Adams on “Assessment of the generic problem-solving construct across different contexts”

Oon, Hoi-Ka, and Fisher on “Metrologically coherent assessment for learning: What, why, and how”

Pandurevic, et al. on “Methods for quantitative evaluation of force and technique in competitive sport climbing”

Pavese on “Musing on extreme quantity values in physics and the problem of removing infinity”

Powers and Fisher on “Advances in modelling visual symptoms and visual skills”

Salzberger, Cano, et al. on “Addressing traceability in social measurement: Establishing a common metric for dependence”

Sapozhnikova, et al. on “Music and growl of a lion: Anything in common? Measurement model optimized with the help of AI will answer”

Soratto, Nunes, and Cassol on “Legal metrological verification in health area in Brazil”

Wilson and Dulhunty on “Interpreting the relationship between item difficulty and DIF: Examples from educational testing”

Wilson, Mari, and Maul on “The status of the concept of reference object in measurement in the human sciences compared to the physical sciences”

Background References

Finkelstein, L. (1975). Representation by symbol systems as an extension of the concept of measurement. Kybernetes, 4(4), 215-223.Finkelstein, L. (2003, July). Widely, strongly and weakly defined measurement. Measurement, 34(1), 39-48(10).

Finkelstein, L. (2005). Problems of measurement in soft systems. Measurement, 38(4), 267-274.

Finkelstein, L. (2009). Widely-defined measurement–An analysis of challenges. Measurement: Concerning Foundational Concepts of Measurement Special Issue Section (L. Finkelstein, Ed.), 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. (2009). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement: Concerning Foundational Concepts of Measurement Special Issue (L. Finkelstein, Ed.), 42(9), 1278-1287.

Mari, L. (2000). Beyond the representational viewpoint: A new formalization of measurement. Measurement, 27, 71-84.

Mari, L., Maul, A., Irribara, D. T., & Wilson, M. (2016, March). Quantities, quantification, and the necessary and sufficient conditions for measurement. Measurement, 100, 115-121. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263224116307497

Mari, L., & Wilson, M. (2014, May). An introduction to the Rasch measurement approach for metrologists. Measurement, 51, 315-327. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263224114000645

Pendrill, L. (2014, December). Man as a measurement instrument [Special Feature]. NCSLi Measure: The Journal of Measurement Science, 9(4), 22-33. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/19315775.2014.11721702

Pendrill, L., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2015). Counting and quantification: Comparing psychometric and metrological perspectives on visual perceptions of number. Measurement, 71, 46-55. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.measurement.2015.04.010

Pendrill, L., & Petersson, N. (2016). Metrology of human-based and other qualitative measurements. Measurement Science and Technology, 27(9), 094003. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1088/0957-0233/27/9/094003

Wilson, M. R. (2013). Using the concept of a measurement system to characterize measurement models used in psychometrics. Measurement, 46, 3766-3774. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0263224113001061

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2016). Preface: 2016 IMEKO TC1-TC7-TC13 Joint Symposium: Metrology across the Sciences: Wishful Thinking? Journal of Physics Conference Series, 772(1), 011001. Retrieved from http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1742-6596/772/1/011001/pdf

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2018). Preface of special issue, Metrology across the Sciences: Wishful Thinking? Measurement, 127, 577.

Wilson, M., & Fisher, W. (2019). Preface of special issue, Psychometric Metrology. Measurement, 145, 190.

 

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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Transformative love!

June 4, 2019

Transformative love! How about a pragmatically effective sense of loving transformation?

  • How about if we lovingly care for our social impact measurement technologies like we do our children (to adapt Bruno Latour’s suggestion)?
  • How about if we lovingly care enough to choose discourse over violence and we quit committing the violence of the premature conclusions we draw from insufficient social impact information (echoing Paul Ricoeur)?
  • How about if we do more to lovingly care for the unity and sameness of the objects of our sustainable impact conversations (taking up Hans-Georg Gadamer’s terms)?
  • How about if we lovingly care enough to prioritize feminist diffractions over masculine tests of strength (following Donna Haraway)?
  • What if we lovingly cared enough for social innovation to model it on the fecund relationships that conceive, gestate, midwife, and nurture new life to maturity (channeling Luce Irigaray)?
  • What if we lovingly care about keeping thinking connected with the ecosystem context of relationships enough to create a new social innovation information infrastructure (tapping the words of Susan Leigh Star)?

Here at the Social Innovation Summit, Valerie Kaur’s call to revolutionary love, leading with love, does a fantastic job of spelling out the power of the birthing and midwifery metaphor. When people like her make the connection, there’s no limit to where humanity will go.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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Cartesian problems cannot be solved by Cartesian solutions, no matter where those solutions originate

April 13, 2019

Trying to persuade or educate individuals to change the way they think and act, by pointing to the facts or by making emotional or moral appeals, seems always and everywhere to be the default go-to solution for those interested in addressing social and environmental problems. I suppose that approach works to varying degrees for different issues, but behavior change never occurs on as massive a scale as when it is mediated by a technology that enables people to do something they value.

The meaning of McLuhan’s expression, “the medium is the message,” and the long history of the many ways in which technologies transform cultures, for better and for worse, all seem utterly lost and forgotten when it comes to efforts aimed at provoking culture change. The ongoing discourses of environmental and social justice inevitably always seem to come back to targeting individual decisions and behaviors as the only recourse for effecting change.

But history teaches us that, if we want to change our values, we have to figure out how to embed the new terms in virally communicable metaphors that enthrall imaginations and captivate people’s attention and interest. Cultures turn on shared meanings that make some behaviors more likely than others. Good metaphors (“love is a rose;” “God is love”) organize experience in ways that allow infinite creative variations on the theme while also lending just a bit of structure and predictability to how things play out. We need to root new metaphors embodying shared human values in information infrastructures that operationalize consensus standards as the common currencies in which those values circulate.

Though the ongoing culture wars seem to suggest wildly divergent values in play across communities, research in developmental psychology strongly indicates that these differences are not what they seem. No matter what their politics, people need to feel valued, to have stable identities, to be recognized as someone of worth, to have a place of dignity in a community, to be trusted, and to see that others enjoy all of these qualities as well. Experience shows that these conditions cannot be implemented by a simple decree or force of will. Broad general conditions have to be cultivated in ways that make the emergence of abundant social capital resources more likely.

A point of entry into thinking about how those conditions might be created is provided by a 2010 quote in the Miami Herald from Gus Speth, former Dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies (http://tinyurl.com/y7mqtzzn). Speth recounts his sense that scientific solutions to ecosystem and climate problems are insufficient because the actual causes of the problems are greed, selfishness, and apathy. So he appeals to religious leaders for help.

But Speth’s moral diagnosis is as misconceived and uninformed as his original scientific one. As has been the topic of multiple posts in this blog, many of today’s problems cannot be solved using the same kind of Cartesian dualist thinking that was used in creating those problems. Voluminous citations in those earlier posts tap a large literature in the philosophy, history, and social studies of science describing a diverse array of examples of nondualist ecosystem thinking and acting (for instance, see references below). These works show how technological media fuse, embody, distribute, and enact social, moral, aesthetic, economic, and scientific values in complex multilevel metasystems (systems of systems). Moral values of fairness, for instance, are embedded in the quantitative values of measurement technologies exported from laboratories into markets where they inform economic values in trade.

Our task is to learn from these examples so that we can develop and deploy new languages that resonate with new values in analogous ways across similarly diverse cultural domains. Beauty, meaning, and poetry have to be as important as logic, mathematics, and science. Readily available theory and evidence already show how all of these are playing their roles in the evolving cultural transformation.

And, fortunately for humanity as well as for the earth, the new nondualist noncartesian solutions will not and cannot be primarily an outcome of deliberate intentions and conscious willpower. On the contrary, these integrated problem-solution monads are living, organic, self-organizing embodiments of ideas that captivate imaginations and draw creative, entrepreneurial energies in productive directions.

Of course, this kind of thing has happened many times in the past, though it has not previously emerged as a result of the kind of cultivated orchestration occurring today. Williamson, North, Ostrom, Coase, and others describe the roles institutions have played in setting up the rules, roles, and responsibilities of efficient markets. Today, new institutions are arising in a context of reproducible scientific results supporting ownership of, investments in, and profits harvested from sustainable impacts measured and managed via virally communicable media spreading social contagions of love and care. This is coming about because we all seek and value meaning and beauty right along with the capacity to enjoy life, liberty, and prosperity. However differently we each define and experience meaning and beauty, caring for the unity and sameness of the objects of the conversations that we are enables us to balance harmonies and dissonances in endless variations performed by every imaginable kind of rhythmic and melodic musical ensemble.

So instead of expecting different results from repeated applications of the same dualistic thinking that got us into today’s problems, we need to think and act nondualistically. Instead of assuming that solutions do not themselves already presuppose and embody problems of a certain type, we need to think in terms of integrated problem-solution monads deployed throughout ecosystems like species in symbiotic relationships. This is precisely what’s happened historically with the oil-automobile-highway-plastics-engineering ecosystem, and with the germ-disease-pharmaceutical-public health-medicine ecosystem. In each case, financial, market, accounting, regulatory, legal, educational, and other institutions evolved in tandem with the emerging sociotechnical ecology.

Now we face urgent needs to think and act on previously unheard of scales and levels of complexity. We have to work together and coordinate efforts in social and psychological domains with no previous history of communications capable of functioning at the needed efficiencies.

But merely urging people to live differently will never result in the changes that must be brought about. No matter how compelling the facts, no matter how persuasive the emotional power, and no matter how inspirational the moral argument, individual people and small groups simply cannot create new shared standards of behavior out of thin air. We are all products of our times and our sociocultural environments. People cannot be expected to simply wake up one day and spontaneously transform their habits by an effort of will. Instead, the values of fairness, equity, inclusion, and justice we say we live by must be embedded within the very fabric of everyday life, the way hours, meters, liters, degrees, grams, and volts are now.

That is, measurements read off instruments calibrated in fair units of comparison—measurements mathematically equivalent to those made with the scales of justice, measurements expressed in the common metrics of a new international system of units, and measurements as adaptable to local individual improvisations as they are generally comparable and navigable—have to be built into every institution in just the same way existing units of measurement are. Education, health care, social services, human resource management, environmental solutions—all of these and more need to attend closely to ways in which the objects of conversation can be more systematically expressed in meaningful words. Ecosystem thinking demands that everyone and everything in a system of relationships must be consistently kept in proportionate contact, within ranges of reported uncertainty, instead of being disconnected off into separate incommensurable universes of discourse, as occurs in today’s institutions.

These are all monumentally huge challenges. But much of the hardest work has been underway for decades, with important results and resources spreading into widely used applications often taken for granted in the background of largely unexamined assumptions. These results are now well enough established, and the associated social and environmental problems are so serious, that more can and should be done to put them to use.

The need for new values is indeed urgent, but empty talk and doing more of the same is getting us nowhere, at best, and more often is worsening conditions. Conceptual determinations of reproducible mathematical values embodying people’s lived social and moral values in fungible economic values are not just theoretical possibilities or provisional experimental results. They are longstanding, widely available, and practical, as well as beautiful and meaningful. With attentive cultivation and nurturing, there are abundant reasons for believing in a safe, healthy, happy, and prosperous future for humanity and life on earth.

References

Akera, A. (2007). Constructing a representation for an ecology of knowledge. Social Studies of Science, 37(3), 413-441.

Barney, M., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2016, April). Adaptive measurement and assessment. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 3, 469-490.

Blok, A., Nakazora, M., & Winthereik, B. R. (2016). Infrastructuring environments. Science as Culture, 25(1), 1-22.

Bowker, G. C. (2016). How knowledge infrastructures learn. In P. Harvey, C. B. Jensen & A. Morita (Eds.), Infrastructures and social complexity: A companion (pp. 391-403). New York: Routledge.

Bowker, G., Timmermans, S., Clarke, A. E., & Balka, E. (Eds). (2015). Boundary objects and beyond: Working with Leigh Star. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Brain, R. (1998). Standards and semiotics. In T. Lenoir (Ed.), Inscribing science: Scientific texts and the materiality of communication (pp. 249-w84). Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

Cano, S. J., & Hobart, J. C. (2011). The problem with health measurement. Patient Preference and Adherence, 5, 279-290.

Cano, S., Klassen, A. F., & Pusic, A. L. (2009). The science behind quality-of-life measurement: A primer for plastic surgeons. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 123(3), 98e-106e.

Cano, S., Melin, J., Fisher, W. P., Jr., Stenner, A. J., Pendrill, L., & EMPIR NeuroMet 15HLT04 Consortium. (2018). Patient-centred cognition metrology. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1065, 072033.

Cano, S., Pendrill, L., Barbic, S., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2018). Patient-centred outcome metrology for healthcare decision-making. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 1044, 012057.

Cano, S., Pendrill, L., Melin, J., & Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2019). Towards consensus measurement standards for patient-centered outcomes. Measurement, in press.

Dawson, T. L. (2002, Summer). A comparison of three developmental stage scoring systems. Journal of Applied Measurement, 3(2), 146-89.

Dawson, T. L. (2002, March). New tools, new insights: Kohlberg’s moral reasoning stages revisited. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 26(2), 154-66.

Dawson, T. L. (2004, April). Assessing intellectual development: Three approaches, one sequence. Journal of Adult Development, 11(2), 71-85.

Dawson, T. L., & Stein, Z. (2011). We are all learning here: Cycles of research and application in adult development. In C. Hoare (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of reciprocal adult development and learning, 2nd Ed. (pp. 447-460). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Fisher, W. P., Jr. (2009, November). Invariance and traceability for measures of human, social, and natural capital: Theory and application. Measurement: Concerning Foundational Concepts of Measurement Special Issue Section, 42(9), 1278-1287.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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Taking the Scales of Justice Seriously as a Model for Sustainable Political Economies

February 28, 2019

We all take standards of measurement for granted as background assumptions that we never have to think about. But as technical, mundane, and boring as these standards are, they define our systems of fair dealing and just relations. The image of blind justice holding a balance scale is a universal ideal being compromised in multiple ways by chaotic forces in today’s complicated world arena.

Even so, astoundingly little effort is being invested in systematically exploring how the scales of justice might be more meaningfully and resiliently embedded within our social, economic, educational, health care, and political institutions. This well may be because the idea that people’s abilities, behaviors, and knowledge could be precisely weighed on a scale, like fruit in a grocery store, seems outrageously immoral, opening the door to treating people like commodities to be bought and sold. And even if the political will for such measures could be found, the regulatory enforcement of legally binding contracts and accounting standards appears so implausibly complicated as to make the whole matter not worth any serious consideration at all.

On the face of it, a literal application of the scales of justice to human affairs echoes ideas discredited so thoroughly and for so long that bringing them up in the here and now seems utterly ridiculous, at least, and perhaps truly dangerous, with no possible result except the crushing reduction of human beings to cogs in a soulless machine.

But what if there is some basic way in which measurement is misunderstood when it is taken to mean people will be treated like mass produced commodities for sale? What if we could measure, legally own, invest in, and profit from our literacy, health, and trustworthiness, in the same way we do with property and material things? What if precision measurement was not a tool for oppressive manipulation but a means of obtaining, sharing, and communicating valuable information? What if local contextual situations can be allowed a latitude of variation that does not negatively compromise navigable continuity?

Circumstances are conspiring to take humanity in new directions. Complex new necessities are nurturing the conception and birth of new innovations. A wealth of diverse possibilities for adaptive experimentation proposed in the past–sometimes the distant past–are finding new life in today’s technological context. And science has changed a lot in the last 100 years. In fact, the public is largely unaware that the old paradigm of mechanical reduction has been completely demolished and replaced with a new paradigm of organic emergence and complex adaptive systems. Even Newtonian mechanics and the basic number theory of arithmetic have had to be reworked. It is also true that very few experts have thought through what the demise of the mechanical root metaphor, and the birth of an organic ecosystem metaphor, means philosophically, socially, historically, and culturally.

Bottom-up manifestations of repeating patterns that can be scaled, measured, quantified, and explained open up a wide array of new opportunities for learning from shared experiences. And, just as humanity has long understood about music, we know now how to contextualize group and individual assessment and survey response patterns in ways that let everyone be what they are, uniquely improvising playful creative performances expressed using high tech instruments tuned to shared standards. A huge amount of conceptual and practical work needs to be done, but there are multiple historical precedents suggesting that betting against human ingenuity would be a losing wager.

Two new projects I’m involved in concerning sustainability impact investing and a metrology center for categorical measures begin a new exploration of the consequences of this paradigm shift for our image of the scales of justice as representing a moral imperative. These projects ask whether more complex combinations of mathematics, experiment, technology, and theory can be overtly conceived and implemented in terms of participatory and democratic social and cognitive ecosystems. If so, we may then find our way to new standards of measurement, new languages, and new forms of social organization sufficient to redefining what we take for granted as satisfying our shared sense of fair dealing and just relations.

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LivingCapitalMetrics Blog by William P. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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