Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionPorter, Theodore M.: ‘Funny Numbers’, Culture Unbound, Volume 4, 2012: 585-598
The struggle over cure rate measures in nineteenth-century asylums provides an exemplary instance of how, when used for official assessments of institutions, these numbers become sites of contestation. The evasion of goals and corruption of measures tends to make these numbers “funny” in the sense of becoming dishonest, while the mismatch between boring, technical appearances and cunning backstage manipulations supplies dark humor. The dangers are evident in recent efforts to decentralize the functions of governments and corporations using incentives based on quantified targets.