Testing certainly isn't a new concept, but one Kansas University professor says testing whether it's for drug use, intelligence, integrity, aptitude or lying has become a popular fixation nationally with some unsavory side effects.
Allan Hanson, professor of anthropology and author of the recently released book "Testing Testing," says the addiction has given large organizations power over individuals and altered society.
"The design of testing is to increase society's efficiency in the processing of human resources," he said. "My claim is that what is really being developed here is a system of coercion and control. The individual is almost never in a position to get information from the organization from the test. The information flow is always one way from the individual to the organization. By testing, organizations put people in a situation that is subordinate and intimidating."
HANSON SAID a test is designed to determine something about a person that can't readily be observed. However, tests don't measure what he calls the target information. Rather, tests measure indicators of that target information.
He cited lie detector tests as an example: When someone is hooked up to a polygraph machine, truth is not being measured, but rather things like heart rate and pulse.
"You don't give somebody a lie detector test to find out if his blood pressure is going up, you give it to him to see if he's lying," he said.
Such physical indicators are symbols of truth or lies, Hanson said. All tests are based on knowing how to translate these symbols.
Another example he gave was the Scholastic Aptitude Test, an exam that is supposed to indicate how well a high school student will do in college.
"ANY TEST that claims to predict the future, well, it's automatically problematic," he said. "The point of the test is not to know if they can answer these 200 questions, but if they can answer a whole world of questions. I would prefer that we focus on testing people about what they already know."
Another problem in symbols that tests rely on are not constant, Hanson said.
"The other thing is the understanding that `A represents B,' and that understanding isn't universal," he said. "Culture or society is intervening there. So when we test people, we're testing for symbols that are important here and now but may not have been in the past or in another culture."
For example, floating on water used to be a sign that a woman was a witch, a symbol which is no longer generally recognized.
BUT NOT ONLY is testing inaccurate, it also is changing individuals in a systematic way, Hanson said.
He said studies indicate Americans think better when dealing with isolated facts rather than when dealing with concepts or ideas. This is because people have become accustomed to dealing with questions in a multiple-choice format.
"In that sense our minds are being transferred, we're all being fabricated," he said.
Test results also can alter people's expectations of themselves, thus altering their view of society in general. Hanson said intelligence tests often do this.
"I don't like intelligence testing much," he said. "It just fosters this notion that intelligence is a single thing that comes in a specific amount that you have all of your life, which just isn't true."
OTHER KINDS of testing are overused in this country as well, Hanson said. He said he opposed pre-employment drug testing and random drug testing, except when it came to testing athletes for steroids and testing someone who shows signs of drug use or abuse.
A certain amount of testing is necessary in our society, Hanson said, but the way it is handled needs to be changed to make testing procedures more accurate and to give individuals more freedom from the large organizations that give many of these tests.
"I guess I just have a problem with this idea that test-givers can penetrate the mind of the test subject at will. That whole situation disturbs me. The more we limit testing, the more we can allow the individual to control how he or she is perceived. I am very much in favor of the idea of controlling your own destiny."