Good morning, Quartz readers!
“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Sociologist Donald Campbell and economist Charles Goodhart reached this conclusion some 40 years ago, after analyzing the measures used in their own professions.
We’ve seen the Campbell and Goodhart law in action plenty of times. Bankers manipulated Libor, a benchmark for borrowing rates, to profit from trades. Businessmen choose accounting metrics to artificially inflate the value of their firms. Facebook has just admitted to overestimating how much video its users watch (paywall), meaning that advertisers have been overpaying.
Now it appears even scientists, among the most trusted professionals in the world, have fallen to abusing metrics. A new analysis of 60 years’ worth of studies in the behavioral sciences found that poor methods have flourished in academia because scientists, under pressure to publish to advance their careers, have focused on the metric of how many papers they put out.
There have been other bad practices too. Pushing negative results under the rug has created a skewed perception (paywall) of our world. Lack of self-policing has helped high-profile scientific frauds to flourish. Cozying up with industry has biased our understanding of everything from prescription drugs to government policy.
As the number of scientists in the world has ballooned—from a mere 1 million in the 1940s to more than 60 million today—bad science has infiltrated every layer of the enterprise. Policymakers and politicians share the blame, for creating perverse incentives while pouring in ever greater sums of taxpayers’ money. But the buck stopswith scientists.
Though they would hate to admit it, scientists are not unlike journalists. Both probe the world for truth, albeit at a different pace and with different methods; and both are under intense pressure to publish. And journalists are among the least trusted professionals. Scientists risk losing their credibility if they don’t mend their methods, and soon.—Akshat Rathi
FIVE THINGS ON QUARTZ WE ESPECIALLY LIKED
Nevada’s legal brothels offer more than just sex. At Nevada’s famed Moonlite Bunny Ranch, sex workers are independent contractors. So brothel owner Dennis Hof is dedicated to making sure they are savvy negotiators and financially literate. Quartz senteconomist Allison Schrager and video journalist Siyi Chen to Carson City to learn how it’s done. We also invited the women to answer, in their own words, questions about feminism, intimacy, and their futures.
Explaining “microaggressions” using Hollywood movies.Especially if you’re not American, you may have been puzzled reading about the latest political dispute sweeping US campuses. Hannah Yi uses clips from famous films to illustrate the various kinds of toxic behavior that used to be considered normal conversation.
The real-life cabal behind a global crisis. Worldwide food prices nearly tripled in 2008, driving millions into poverty and malnutrition. New research has revealed the likely culprits were global fertilizer companies collaborating to hike prices, writes Tim Fernholz, suggesting that policymakers have focused on the wrong issues all along.
Hillary Clinton’s secret debate weapon. How will she face up to Donald Trump, who steamrolled his rivals in the Republican primary debates, in their first face-off this Monday? Adam Freelander and Hanna Kozlowska analyze footage from previous Clinton debates to show how she handles an attack by a male opponent and turns it, ever-so-subtly, against him.
Somalia’s thriving democracy, where only 1% of people vote. It may sound like a joke, but, argues Abdi Latif Dahir, the narrow electoral system that will pick a government over the next few weeksis mending the rifts created by the long civil war. The most promising sign: young professionals are getting involved in politics.
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FIVE THINGS ELSEWHERE THAT MADE US SMARTER
The poster child for Deepwater Horizon. Bob Kaluza, a supervisor on the BP oil rig that blew up and sank in the Gulf of Mexico, was one of the only people prosecuted for the deadly 2010 disaster. Loren Steffy, writing in Texas Monthly, recounts the night of the explosion and the tension afterward between “the public outcry to hold individuals accountable and what some saw as BP’s desire to ensure that those individuals weren’t high-ranking executives.”
Schizophrenia as shamanism? Dick Russell spent 15 years working to find treatment for his son, Frank, who began suffering from hallucinations, paranoia and suicidal thoughts as a teenager. Then they met Malidoma Patrice Some, a titiyulo, or shaman, from Burkina Faso, and began a journey that proved life-changing for Frank, challenging Western approaches to schizophrenia.
The creation and demise of Brangelina. In a piece that will upend your preconceptions both of Buzzfeed and of celebrity reporting, Anne Helen Peterson dissects the strategy of image-making behind Hollywood’s most famous couple, whose 11-year relationship coincided with the disruption of media and big cultural shifts in the relationship between celebrities and their fans.
How Americans helped the Clintons screw up Haiti. The disastrous reconstruction after the 2010 earthquake featured both Hillary and Bill Clinton in starring roles. The flawed development effort has been used to attack them, but Jonathan Katz, a veteran reporter in Haiti, explains that they were simply doing what the American people wanted: continuing a century of US neglect and exploitation.
Technology made me inhuman. In New York Magazine, Andrew Sullivan grapples with his addiction to the chronic distraction of the smartphone and explores the value of silent contemplation, particularly in a secular world where the “roar and disruption” of capitalism have replaced religion’s stillness. It’s worth the long read—and also available in print, should you crave a break from the screen.
Our best wishes for a relaxing but thought-filled weekend. Please send any news, comments, Somali ballot papers, and shamanistic rituals to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.