Campbell’s Law

Campbell’s Law states:

The more any quantitative social 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 measure.

Community activist Diana Campbell, who as far I know isn’t related to the author of the above quote, essentially applied the law in a blog  on Bristol-Warren Patch that discussed the recently passed Voter ID legislation in Rhode Island. She claimed the bill, which was supposedly designed to protect against voter  fraud (an almost non-existent crime as evidenced by the extremely small  number of cases throughout the US), will disenfranchise significant portions of our poor, elderly and minority communities. Unfortunately, the people who replied to the post don’t seem quite as enlightened as the Campbells.

Among her many job titles, Diana is a member of the Bristol-Warren School Committee. So it’s fitting that I should stumble onto Campbell’s Law while reading an article by the former executive director of the American Mathematical Society on how politicians across the country are using mathematical intimidation to push their school reform agendas. Having written on the subject of how poor mathematics contributed to Rhode Island’s unfair funding formula, I was encouraged to learn that I wasn’t  the only mathematician speaking out about the injustices of the school deform movement.

I hope Diana, perhaps the person most responsible for getting me started on a path of political activism, will read this post and also be comforted to know she isn’t alone. The voices for the voiceless could always use some accompaniment.

5 Responses to “Campbell’s Law”

  1. dbcamp Says:

    Thanks for the support — and also showing me how outdated the Voices website is! Always a pleasure to hear from you. I did hear through a private email that I was mistaken in the part of my grandmother not being allowed to vote for me. Apparently the photo id is only required at the polls. Absentee ballots don’t require a photo id. So I guess, anyone can get an absentee ballot, but you have to prove who you are to vote in person. Makes no sense to me. It’s a Rovian plot! LOL

  2. Michael Byrnes Says:

    Kevin,

    Sorry for the late reply on this – I haven’t been an active gadfly lately.

    In terms of full disclosure you should have provided some statistics on the responses to Diana’s blog on the patch which you so strongly supported. Sometimes quantitative indicators are meaningful. Diana’s blog post was almost uniformly opposed by every respondent, and there were many. I suspect that the overwhelming negative response will only be seen by you and Diana as a “Rovian plot”!

  3. bristolbullraker Says:

    Quantitative studies are only as good as their methodologies. Using volunteered information as a sample is flawed because it tends to disproportionately include the most radical views. To wit, I recognized names of local tea party members when I last read the replies to the original Patch column.

    Of course, without looking at the data, one could argue that Diana and I may also be radical in our views… so I encourage readers to figure it out for themselves. I did and here’s what I came up with:

    If roughly 10% of Rhode Islanders don’t have IDs (i.e. if RI is near the national average), then we’re making tens of thousands of voters jump through more hoops in order to try and catch at most a handful of people committing voter fraud. The cure will almost certainly be worse than the disease, unless one subscribes to the conspiracy theory that voter fraud is thousands of times more prevalent than the data suggests. Call it a “Rovian plot” if you want. All I’m saying is that the numbers aren’t even close to adding up.

  4. Michael Byrnes Says:

    Kevin,

    Not sure that these were radical views – I do not know who the Tea party folks were, but I was impressed with the balanced and reasoned arguments put forth by those taking exception to Diana’s blog.

    The 10% is not a fact but a guesstimate. The fact that 10% of folks do not have ID’s is actually quite meaningless. What percentage of this 10% actually vote and of this number how many would have difficulty to get a photo ID? We know as Diana learned that absentee voters do not need a photo ID.

    Also the assertion that there is little or no fraud in the system is just that – an assertion. I just find it strange that people cannot find a way to jump through hoops to insure that they perform one of the most important responsibilities of citizenship. Seems like you are making a mountain of a mole hill!

  5. bristolbullraker Says:

    You’re right, 10% was a guess. I couldn’t recall the figure exactly and I wanted to give a conservative estimate. Studies show it’s as high as 12%: http://www.brennancenter.org/content/section/category/voter_id

    Simply for the sake of argument (because I’m not willing to concede the points), let’s assume this stat is made more “meaningless” by the factors you wish to consider. Then we’re talking about a conspiracy theory that voter fraud may only be tens or hundreds of times more prevalent than the data suggests. Still not very compelling.

    The fact is that there’s little documented fraud in the system (for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/12/washington/12fraud.html?pagewanted=all). And, without sufficient data, it’s unwise to make policy decisions (especially heavy-handed ones) lest we risk making “a mountain out of a mole hill”.

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