David Simon on the Institutional Corruption of Statistics

I’ve been watching all David Simon’s videos available online, and nine minutes into this one, he succinctly summarizes a general trend depicted in The Wire. Statistical measurement corrupts what they are intended to measure, just as Campbell’s Law observed. David Simon:

As I got better as a reporter, in the later years of doing it, I realized: as soon as any of our institutions create a means by measuring how well they’re doing in terms of quality, someone is running behind them in the institution to figure out a way to destroy that statistic as a meaningful measure of anything:

  • in education, it’s “No Child Left Behind” and standardized test scores;
  • in the police department, it was crime stats and clearance rates;
  • in journalism, it was Pulitzer prizes

I never thought of the application of the law to journalism, but after reading about the newspapers who specifically write articles with the goal of getting a Pulitzer, it makes perfect sense.