McNamara Fallacy

“The McNamara fallacy (also known as quantitative fallacy), named for Robert McNamara, the United States Secretary of Defense from 1961 to 1968, involves making a decision based solely on quantitative observations (or metrics) and ignoring all others. The reason given is often that these other observations cannot be proven.

The first step is to measure whatever can be easily measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can’t be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can’t be measured easily really isn’t important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can’t be easily measured really doesn’t exist. This is suicide.

— Daniel Yankelovich “Corporate Priorities: A continuing study of the new demands on business.” (1972)

The fallacy refers to McNamara’s belief as to what led the United States to defeat in the Vietnam War—specifically, his quantification of success in the war (e.g. in terms of enemy body count), ignoring other variables. The McNamara fallacy originates from the Vietnam War, in which enemy body counts were taken to be a precise and objective measure of success. War was reduced to a mathematical model: by increasing enemy deaths and minimizing one’s own, victory was assured. Critics note that guerrilla warfare and widespread resistance can thwart this formula. McNamara’s interest in quantitative figures is seen in Project 100,000. By lowering admission standards to the military, enlistment grew. Key to this decision was the idea that one soldier is, in the abstract, more or less equal to another, and that with the right training and superior equipment, he would factor positively in the mathematics of warfare. …”
The McNamara Fallacy and the Problem with Numbers in Education
The Dictatorship of Data

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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