Downes's Business Hopelessness Scale

Certain businesses - Down East Coffee on St. George, for example - give you pleasure when you deal with them. Others, however (and the list is long) seem to go out of their way to ruin your day. Pearson Education is one such, as witnessed by reports that an ill-conceived DMCA claim resulted in the shutdown of 1.4 million blogs at eduBlogs.

The Pearson claim revolved around something called the Beck Hopelessness Scale. As James Farmer explains, "one of our teachers, in 2007, had shared a copy of Beck’s Hopelessness Scale with his class, a 20 question list, totalling some 279 words, published in 1974, that Pearson would like you to pay $120 for."

Now Pearson is offering teachers a free LMS. Should teachers take them up on this offer? Audrey Watters opines, "I'd like to think that, as consumers, we're getting a little better at questioning some of the healthful promises made on food labels." Lables like 'free' are just marketing, intended to pull you in, at which point you'll find yourself trapped in business with an onerous partner like Pearson.

We need a way to gauge the hopelessness of our business relations with certain companies. We need a series of questions we can answer to tell us when is it time to fold our tent, and get professional help, because this company is doing more to hurt us than to help us.

Accordingly, I have devised a grading scale, derived (in pure academic tradition) on the Beck scale. The Beck scale, of course, was based on questions clinicians actually asked their patients, and is the formalization of standard practice that evolved over decades. In exactly the same manner, this test formalizes standard practice in the field. Any similarity with the original is the result of academic citation and reference.

I have used the term 'Pearson' to denote the company you are considering; simply substitute the name of the company you are thinking of, like 'Apple' or 'SAP' or 'Irving'. My use of the string 'Pearson' does not denote any particular company, and any relationship to an existing business is purely coincidental.


This questionnaire consists of a list of twenty statements. Please read the statements carefully one by one. If the statement describes your attitude toward Pearson for the past week, including today, write ‘T’ or ‘true’. If the statement is false for you, write ‘F’ or ‘false’. Please be sure to read each sentence.


1) I look forward to the future dealings with Pearson with hope and enthusiasm

2) I might as well give up and stay with Pearson because there’s nothing I can do to make things better for myself

3) When things are going badly, I am helped by knowing that Pearson can't stay in business for ever

4) I can’t imagine what Pearson would be like in ten years

5) Pearson leaves me enough time to accomplish the things I most want to do

6) In the future I expect Pearson to help me succeed in what concerns me most

7) My future with Pearson seems dark to me

8) I happen to be particularly lucky and I expect to get more of  good things from Perarson than the average person

9) I just don’t get any breaks from Pearson, and there’s no reason to believe that I will in the future

10) My past experiences with Pearson have prepared me well for my future

11) All I can see ahead of me from Pearson is unpleasantness rather than pleasantness

12) I don’t expect to get what I really want from Pearson

13) When I look ahead to the future I expect I will be happier with Pearson than I am now


14) Pearson things just won’t work out the way I want them to

15) I have great faith in Pearson for the future

16) I never get what I want from Pearson, so it’s foolish to want anything

17) It is very unlikely that I will get any real satisfaction from Pearson in the future

18) Pearson's future seems vague and uncertain to me

19) I can look forward to more good times than bad times with Pearson

20) There’s no use in really trying to get something I want from Pearson because I probably won’t get it


While the Beck scale was a reliable predictor of depressive behaviour, the Downes scale may not be as precise an instrument for dealing with businesses. This is because businesses value only their bottom line, and so relations with businesses are generally so self-defeating the test is unable to distinguish between the degrees of futility at the bottom end of the scale. This applies equally whether you are working for the company or whether you are one of the company's customers.

Note that this test applies even if you are not "in business" with the particular company. Today's large corporations exert an influence well beyond their business sphere. Hence you may be looking at companies trying to interfere with elections, pollute your environment, start pointless wars, or (as mentioned above) take down your web site.

If you would like to self-score the hopelessness you feel when dealing with Pearson, award yourself 1 point for each true answer from questions 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15 and 19. Award yourself -1 point for each true answer for the rest. The lower the score, the more depressed you are with your current corporate relationship. If your score is below -5, hire a lawyer.


  1. As a former Pearson employee (we were taken over, half of us sacked, the remainder metaphorically chained to their desks under contract until training their Indian replacements), I got a rueful chuckle from your post.

  2. As an Adult Educator, I can say I anticipating the take over of the GED by Pearson as of 2014 with horror. They are an educational blight upon the land.

    - Steve K


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