Saturday, May 05, 2007

Technology by the Numbers

Ida R. Hoos, a critic of assessing technology solely in quantitative terms, died in late April at age 94. Trained as a sociologist, Hoos resisted the "quantomania" that "prevails in the assessment of technologies" during the heyday of the OTA.

Have things returned to quantomania? The NSF is pursuing a new "science of science policy" initiative and there appears to be greater emphasis on the agency to quantify the output of its grants and awards. Within the nano-and-society sub-community, the focus also seems to be more heavily on quantitative social science with less attention to humanistic and qualitative research. Is this short-sighted? Is it an attempt to appear more scientific in the study of science and technology? Hoos, as one of her colleagues remembered, argued that for complex technological enterprises, one couldn't always rely solely on a systems-analysis approach.


  1. Professor Plaxco often says that a theory tends to disappear when its proponents do. I hope that there is a lot of resistance to the overuse of quantification. There is plenty of room for humanistic and qualitative social science. There is too much of an emphasis on numbers everywhere these days. Friends of mine made decisions about where to go to graduate school exclusively based on US News and World Report rankings. For example, one of them went to UCSD because it was higher ranked than any other programs that he was accepted to.

  2. Oh yeah, and the same could be said for evaluating students purely by their grades and SAT or GRE scores. Those numbers are often highly misleading. They are only shortcuts.