Blogs as Freudian Telephone

When you were a kid, did you ever play telephone? That game where a whole bunch of people would sit in a circle, the first would pass a message to the second, and so on until it came back, having changed in some bizarre and unpredictable way? Well, blogging on news stories can be like that, as bloggers pass along a story it becomes simply an inkblot, showing us more about the bloggers involved than about the original item. Here, I offer a minor example of such an indianinkblot from two of my favorite economics bloggers:

Recently Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution wrote another in his series of wonderful Outsourcing for Everything posts:

Why not grade exam papers in India?  Brad DeLong offers the link.  The obvious question is what we really need professors for anyway  — are we simply magnets of personality to keep students interested?

Working backwards, we find Brad’s story etitled  Offshoring Creeps Closer to the Professoriate! which contains the following blurb:

BBC News: British exam papers India bound: “Thousands of exam papers from England will be sent to India later this year as part of the marking process. Critics in England say the move is the latest example of cost-cutting by outsourcing, and will result in errors in exam marking and delays in results. The exam board behind the initiative, AQA, told the BBC that no marking would take place in India and that the move would make marking more efficient.

What’s the original story really about? It’s about how the brits are scanning in handwritten one word answers on exam sheets, and sending them to India to be transcribed. There is no actually exam marking in India at all! None! To their credit, neither blogger says that there was any grading going on in India, but I’ll bet many sloppy readers might have come away with that impression.

Interestingly enough, the people opposed to this outsourcing say they wouldn’t mind if their exams were marked in India, saying: 

I have nothing against Indians marking papers from England – many Indians speak English better than the English themselves

They claim that they simply don’t want transcription errors and delays in the process (the exam board responded that each word would be typed in by hand by two different people and checked by computer as well).

As economists, Tyler and Brad both were thinking about the general issue of outsourcing expertise. However, the story is not about that at all. It’s about everyday transcription, but it contains the fascinating but overlooked nugget – that some Brits would be perfectly willing to have Indians grade English exam papers. Moral of the story, always click through to the original news item if you don’t want to miss the neat stuff.

3 thoughts on “Blogs as Freudian Telephone

  1. Ummm, it would hardly be “sloppy reading” to conclude on the basis of what the guy wrote that papers are being graded in India. It’s more like sloppy writing.

    We can’t click on everything, people! :)

  2. Last summer I temped for a company that grades standardized tests from all over the U.S. It was by far and above the most miserable job I’ve ever had, reading illiterate hand-written answers, and having to give credit if the kids merely approached within a zillion-mile radius of an appropriate answer. My point is, all the temps there are college grads, many with advanced degrees who can’t find any other work. Apparently it’s well-known as the place to go if you’re smart and unemployed. I felt like for the pennies we were getting for the headache-inducing work, the schools and exam companies had it pretty darn good. I’d be interested to learn if they ever DO decide to outsource the whole thing abroad to save even MORE money.

    The dude who sat next to me for a few weeks was an Indian guy over on an H1-B visa, whose IT day job apparently didn’t pay him enough. He would often fall asleep at the computer screen during the evening shift. :)