Testing Really Doesn’t Work

Lisa Nowak
Lisa “Robochick” Nowak

I have all kinds of anecdotal evidence that personality testing doesn’t work, but I’ve never had a case that I could talk about publicly, or that was so widely known that it would prove the point for me. Today NASA came to my rescue.

If you haven’t read my thoughts on the subject of testing of employees, please take a minute to read my FAQ article on it here. [Go ahead, I’ll wait.] The gist of the article, at least as far as personality testing is concerned, is that it simply doesn’t work. The tests are usually gamed, and the results are little better predictors than fortune tellers at the county fair.

Today, NASA (or at least one of their finest) proved me right. NASA has, for years, put their astronaut candidates through huge batteries of testing, including the obvious physical testing, drug testing, and numerous mental and psychological tests. The theory here is that they want to prevent a crisis in space where a nut case would make for a pretty interesting crisis miles from earth and the nearest shrink’s couch.

While there is little public acknowledgment of whether NASA actually makes assignments based on these tests, there is plenty of lore surrounding it. From Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff to Ron Howard’s movie Apollo 13, there are numerous dramatic cases where people were supposedly denied space flight because of these tests.

At the very least, you have to assume that NASA goes to all this trouble to test candidates with the expectation of learning something about the people. One could reasonably assume that they would, if the tests showed potential issues, gently steer the person toward non-mission critical positions. Well, today we have evidence that they “missed it by that much” (with a nod to Don Adams)…

Nowak's Booking Photo
Nowak’s Booking Photo

In case you missed it, today a NASA astronaut was caught up in a truly bizarre love triangle. Lisa Nowak (aka “Robochick”) was charged with attempted murder and kidnapping after she traveled the 900 miles from Houston to Orlando wearing a diaper. Apparently she was just barely stopped from going all wiggy all over the rival for her imagined lover (also an astronaut).

Clearly this is the kind of behavior one would hope personality tests could predict. And equally clearly, Nowak passed the battery of tests, as she rode the shuttle to the international space station last year aboard mission STS-121. But, here we are today, with her obviously not in a particularly sound mental state.

Finally I have the definitive case study. An organization that tests more rigorously than any private employer could ever hope to, has a clear and obvious failure of these silly tests. Can we all just admit it now that they are worthless and stop wasting time, energy, and future employee goodwill on them?

4 Replies to “Testing Really Doesn’t Work”

  1. I agree with you these tests are bunk. Also I would venture to say that the percentage of problems with the “elite” is the same as the percentage of problems with the average population.

    I wonder how many miles per diaper she got?

  2. My personal experience with psychological evaluations:
    I want to be a policeman even though I make far more money as an RN or pharmaceutical representative.

    Denied position with Metro Police Louisville, KY
    Based SOLEY on Psych assess 1 letter grade below acceptable (based on Hx of steroid use over 9 yrs ago and psychologist didn’t like my answers r/t steroids).

    I am an Oncology RN (6 yrs exp.) with clinical steroid replacement experience, pharmaceutical clinical trial experience as RN including clinical presentation’s for teaching (RN’s, Pharm D’s and MD’s) and a pharmaceutical representative (5 yrs) with growth factor experience.

    How much clinical experience does a psychologist have r/t pharmaceuticals? (He misunderstood when I told him I had my labs drawn to monitor my renal and hepatic function).

    Other points:
    Honorable D/C US Army: 4 yrs active, 1.5 yrs reserve, Airborne, Air Assault, SF, E-5 (no corrective action).
    Oral board 1189/1250
    Excellent back ground check
    Excellent chief’s board
    Excellent physical agility test
    Excellent credit report
    Pass polygraph (pass/fail)
    College requirement 60 hrs: 170hrs college, 2 assoc, 1 Bachelors with honors.

    Psychological testing is a multimillion (maybe billion) dollar UNREGULATED business! The people who administer them admit to false negatives and false positives. Some people fail one, two, or even three and then pass the next. What about the people who pass the first and would have failed repeatedly after that.

    I am shocked consistently when I here officer’s who have passed the psych eval talk about their actions on and off the job!

    Not venting just sharing. JB

  3. Another female astronaut who returned from a previous shuttle mission passed out during a news conference. Was this Nowak’s first shuttle mission? If so, could the trip to space and returning back to earth have any impact on a person’s mental capacity?

  4. Nick, she only flew one mission, several months before. Not sure if there is a physiological issue here, and I’m certainly not about to start a “women aren’t fit for space flight” thread here 🙂


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