Campbell’s Law Goes Nukular

“The more any quantitative social indicator (or even some qualitative indicator) is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

So said Donald Campbell. And so sez the rocket corps (boldface mine):

Top military officials were quick to voice outrage over revelations last week that 34 officers responsible for launching the nation’s nuclear missiles cheated on monthly proficiency tests, but few expressed surprise.

Cheating has been a fact of life among America’s nuclear launch officers for decades, crew members and instructors said….

Former missileers say the cheating is also driven by what they say are onerous consequences for failing the tests, including additional time on “alert” in the isolated, cramped underground capsules from which the missiles are launched. In the language of diplomacy, they say there are few carrots for rewards and far more sticks for retribution.

The sticks are so severe, the punishment for imperfection so great, that it encourages crew members to work together to ensure no one fails,” said Bruce Blair, a former missile launch officer and a co-founder of Global Zero, which advocates the elimination of nuclear weapons. Mr. Blair said he cheated on his proficiency tests, as did his fellow crew members….

“The penalty is so severe that everyone is freaked out,” he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to avoid repercussions. “It makes your life so much worse when you miss a question, and there are no real consequences to not knowing the answers, so people help each other out.”

Current and former missileers described a surreal circular dance in which crew members routinely cheated on the tests, got promoted to higher rank and then officially announced their zero tolerance of cheating, all while looking the other way.

(“Circular dance”? I believe that’s a euphemism for circle jerk, but I could be wrong).

As the article notes, at one time, these officers were considered the elite. Thus, I’m certain this has no implications for testing-based evaluation of teachers.

None at all.

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