Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

Service of Research

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Photo: stemcell.com

I admire researchers for so many reasons. It can take decades for them to make a discovery and years more to prove it. Diligence, the ability to fight frustration and dissent are just three characteristics of this valiant group.

I was distressed to read Noam Cohen’s New York Times article, “M.I.T. Shuts Down ‘Food Computer’ Project” about the world-renowned research citadel. The allegedly promising venture–The Open Agricultural Initiative [OpenAg]–involved greenhouses, called food computers, designed for crops that grow in air–without soil or sunlight. In addition to those in food computers at the university there were larger greenhouses in shipping containers in Middletown, Mass.

M.I.T. Media Lab. Photo: news.mit.edu

Cohen wrote: “The once-celebrated M.I.T. Media Lab micro-greenhouses were supposed to grow food under virtually any conditions. In the end, they worked under almost none. And now, M.I.T. has turned off the lights, possibly for good.”

He added “The project has been accused of misleading sponsors and the public by exaggerating results while the Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its financial ties to the convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein.”

The director of the OpenAg program, Caleb Harper, posted images and videos on social media “that looked like experiments” and exaggerated or made false claims. Former researchers said he bought plants and put them in the “food computers” pretending they’d grown there. They said that data would have “little scientific significance” because they could not “control the conditions within the boxes.”

The Middletown containers were closed down recently because they dumped wastewater “with 20 times the legal limit of nitrogen underground.”

M.I.T. Photo: news.mit.edu

According to Cohen, Harper boasted that food computers he’d sent Syrian refugees in camps gave them “the means to grow their own food inside the camp.” Instead, these computers ended up “in a Jordanian research lab where they faltered because of hot, dry conditions and technical failures.”

The project attracted $millions in sponsorship funds and heaps of positive publicity including the likes of “60 Minutes” and a TED Talk.  I wager it received the acclaim and financial support based on its affiliation with M.I.T. Such shenanigans can’t help the university’s reputation and I wonder who minds the store in such institutions to prevent this kind of tempting fabrication from happening more often.

Photo: twitter.com

 

Service of Counting on a Brand: Bye-bye Microsoft E-Library

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Photo: crosswordology.com

How do you know you can trust a brand to keep its products in business and parts available for as long as you need them? The question doesn’t apply anymore just to major appliances, motor vehicles, furnaces, solar energy technologies and gadgets like VCRs, CDs and DVDs. The subscribers to Microsoft’s E-Library know what it’s like to be left in the lurch. I heard about their loss on NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Josh Axelrod reported “Starting in July, Microsoft will be closing its e-book library and erasing all content purchased through the Microsoft e-bookstore from devices. Consumers will receive a refund for every e-book bought.”

Photo: e-library.co.za

I read traditional books but some of my best friends rely on e-books. I’d be irritated if I’d paid for a book and was left hanging at a crucial juncture when Microsoft pulled the plug.

Garcia-Navarro interviewed Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, who pointed out that losing a book you’ve annotated and use in your job is more than exasperating. Think of lawyers, teachers or academic researchers who have spent time to study a book and write themselves virtual Post-It notes on manuscripts. The additional $25 refund doesn’t make this customer whole, said Perzanowski who also wrote the book “The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy.”

“In a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, Perzanowski found that users are often misled when they click the ‘Buy Now’ button, thinking that they’ve gained permanent ownership of digital content.

Photo: garageenvy.com

“‘You can go out and buy a car and you think you own the car because it’s parked in your garage,’ Perzanowski says. ‘But in reality – how it functions, who can repair it, what replacement parts are compatible with it – all of that is controlled through software code. And, so I think that line between the physical and the digital is getting increasingly blurry.’”

The culprit is a tool called Digital Rights Management or DRM software. “Your car, your smart home appliances, your home security system – all of these systems have software that allows for this kind of control over how the devices are used, and I think we’re going to see these same sorts of situations crop up in the context of physical devices that are being used in people’s homes.”

Have you lost the use of something you owned because there are no parts available to repair it or did you learn that, like the e-books you bought, you really didn’t own it at all? Do you factor in shelf life when buying things for your office or home or are you resigned to short-lived pull-by dates on almost everything but processed honey with its forever lifespan?

Photo: geofflawtononline.com

Service of Performance Evaluations: Inequality for Women

Thursday, June 7th, 2018

Photo: yourlifechoices.com.au

Words have always mattered, especially to those who make their livings writing, singing, reporting, performing in plays and films, giving speeches and the like. Today most are aware which words hurt or insult and use them with eyes wide open.

There is an area—performance evaluations–in which word choice unintentionally sends harmful or positive signals. The negative impact falls on women and their potential for leadership positions.

Photo: leanhealthcareerchance.com

I wasn’t surprised by the findings of two researcher/professor PhD’s and a PhD statistical consultant who studied the words most used for men and for women—4,000 of them–in 81,000 military performance evaluations. The Harvard Business Review published highlights of their findings.

For men the words were “analytical” as a positive and “arrogant” as a negative. For women, positive and negative words were “compassionate” and “inept” respectively. Any doubt which you’d hire if you were looking for a competent employee—an analytical or compassionate one? Which would you fire first if you had to choose between arrogance and ineptness?

David G. Smith, Judith E. Rosenstein and Margaret C. Nikolov explained why they chose the military as their hunting ground. “The top-down enforcement of equal employment opportunity policies, hierarchical organization by military rank and not social status characteristics, and recent total gender integration in all occupations are hallmarks of meritocratic organizations where we might expect less gender bias in performance evaluations.”

They found no differences in objective measures–grades, fitness scores or class standing.

Photo: helioshr.com

Back to the subjective measures, the focus of their conclusions. “Men were more often assigned attributes such as analytical, competent, athletic and dependable, women were more often assigned compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic and organized.” And to describe negative attributes “women were more often evaluated as inept, frivolous, gossip, excitable, scattered, temperamental, panicky, and indecisive, while men were more often evaluated as arrogant and irresponsible.”

The researchers’ wrote that their findings line up with others that also show that women often receive “vague feedback that is not connected to objectives or business outcomes, which is a disadvantage when women are competing for job opportunities, promotions, and rewards, and in terms of women’s professional growth and identity.” Female leaders are criticized for being “too bossy or aggressive” and yet advised that they should “be more confident and assertive.” Other research has shown that “when women are collaborative and communal, they are not perceived as competent—but when they emphasize their competence, they’re seen as cold and unlikable, in a classic ‘double bind.’”

The researchers wrote that when asked, most people think of men as leaders. Their study showed that “even in this era of talent management and diversity and inclusion initiatives, our formal feedback mechanisms are still suffering from the same biases, sending subtle messages to women that they aren’t ‘real leaders’— men are.”

Have you written performance evaluations using different terminology to describe men and women’s qualities and weaknesses? Have you run into this bias in performance evaluations about you or people you know? Do you know women who are analytical, competent, athletic and dependable—the positive words to describe men’s performances–or men who are compassionate, enthusiastic, energetic and organized, flattering words about women?

Photo: businessnewsdaily.com

David G. Smith, PhD, is a professor of sociology in the Department of National Security Affairs at the United States Naval War College. Judith E. Rosenstein, PhD, is a professor of sociology in the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the United States Naval Academy. Margaret C. Nikolov, PhD is an independent statistical consultant who previously taught at the United States Naval Academy.

 

Service of Plan B

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Photo: shiftonline.org

Photo: shiftonline.org

I’m a Plan B kind of person. If a project isn’t rolling out the way I’d like, I develop contingencies and options so as not to let an unanticipated glitch get in the way of a project’s success.

Turns out that most are like me and we’re all wrong, according to recent research reported in the Wall Street Journal by Rachel Emma Silverman. However, I’m not convinced by the experiment she cited that the conclusions are justified.

Silverman explained why you’re better off without a Plan B from findings published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. Jihae Shin, assistant professor of management and human resources at the University of Wisconsin’s business school and Katherine Milkman, a Wharton associate professor, co-authored the results of a series of studies.

participantsSilverman quotes Shin: “Simply contemplating backup plans make you want to achieve the primary goal less, which makes you put less effort into it. As a result, you have lower chances of success in your primary goal.”

The reporter described one of the experiments in which “participants were asked to unscramble sentences and told that if they performed well, they would receive a free snack.” Some were told they might not win a snack and to think of a backup plan of other ways to get free food on campus.

snacks“Researchers found that participants who were prompted to think of a backup plan to get free snacks did significantly worse on an assigned task than those who were simply told to do the task with no additional instructions.” The key word is prompted. That action skewed the results, in my opinion because the researchers distracted some and not others so they weren’t equally concentrating on unscrambling the sentences.

Silverman wrote: “When people anticipate that they’ll feel really bad if they don’t complete a task, they will work harder, Dr. Shin said. But if they have thought of a Plan B, they might feel more comfortable slacking off.”

I think that what is significant and relevant is the timing of when to think of additional strategies. You wouldn’t make a Plan B at the start and you might not do it at all if your plan is going well. Actually, in the next quote, Dr. Shin agreed with me, therefore watering down his theory: “You might first want to do everything you can to achieve your primary goal and really focus on that for a period of time, before you develop a detailed backup plan.”

While the research focused on individuals, Dr. Shin suggested that team leaders might want to have a second team develop a Plan B, leaving the first team to work on the project.

Wouldn’t having teams work at cross-purposes impact enthusiasm and morale? Do you start a project thinking of alternate strategies or do you follow a strategy you believe in before thinking of alternatives? Does the setup of the experiment seem flawed?

timing is everything

Service of How Did That Happen?

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

how did that happen

Monkey Business

primateI’ve covered plagiarism before and am consistently amazed by the reaction of the outed plagiarist. This time it’s a world-famous primatologist according to Christopher Joyce, NPR. Jane Goodall who, according to a statement reported by Joyce, wrote the following about “Seeds of Hope.” “This was a long and well-researched book, and I am distressed to discover that some of the excellent and valuable sources were not properly cited, and I want to express my sincere apologies.” I added the bold to part of the quote to underscore the passivity of the apology. Joyce points out that Goodall had a co-author.

 What’s a $Billion Among Friends?

BillionBankruptcy is a different kind of oops, especially when a $billion is involved and in so short a time. The Revel Casino in Atlantic City is less than a year old, according to Tom Hals and Jonathan Stempel of Reuters, and management expects to be out of bankruptcy by summer. A little bump in the road to everyone but those who are owed all that money and if the vendors are small enough and unable to weather the loss, they won’t be in business as Revel expects to be.

NJ.com quoted CEO, Kevin DeSanctis, in an earlier article: “‘Today’s announcement is a positive step for Revel,’ DeSanctis said. ‘The agreement we have reached with our lenders will ensure that the hundreds of thousands of guests who visit Revel every year will continue to enjoy a signature Revel experience in our world-class facility.’”

How benevolent, how wonderful for the CEO to be concerned about future guests: Is my scorn coming through loud and clear?

Peek-a-Boo

LululemonThe press had fun writing and speaking about Luluemon’s $98 yoga pants that turned out to be see-through by mistake. It affected the stock and Bloomberg.com reporter Sapna Maheshwari covered analysts’ interview of Lululemon’s CEO, Christine Day. Day told them:

“The truth of the matter is the only way you can actually test for the issue is to put the pants on and bend over,” Day said on today’s conference call. “Just putting the pants on themselves doesn’t solve the problem. It passed all of the basic metric tests and the hand-feel is relatively the same, so it was very difficult for the factories to isolate the issue, and it wasn’t until we got in the store and started putting it on people that we could actually see the issue.” [Highlight is mine.]

People in a store are different from people at headquarters or at the plant? I’m not the only PR person to test a client’s toll free number or website link before sending out a press release that includes such references. Chefs are known to have bad teeth because they are test-tasting food all day long. At that price point, couldn’t somebody at headquarters or at the plant try on a pair of these pants and use them as “people in the store” would?

Anybody interested in taking responsibility these days?

Peekaboo3

Service of Research

Monday, October 17th, 2011

research

Before 6 am Saturday morning I heard on a tri-state news station that in 2012 and 2013, there would be a study to evaluate kindergarten students to refine early childhood education accordingly. I was waking up but I’m pretty sure it was in New York State.

Why a study? If someone discovers a way to better teach preschoolers how to focus, read, count, memorize, identify colors, solve puzzles, write, draw, dance, play baseball, follow instructions, exercise or sing, do they require a two year study to show that their idea is needed because first graders already do or don’t perform whatever’s in question pretty well?

suggestionbox2Companies are always asking employees–some get rewards-to share more efficient, cost-saving and effective ways of performing tasks and solving problems. Should it take two years to figure out that by switching to vendor A you’d save $X, compared to your current vendor, and perhaps save time to boot?

focus-group1I love reading the results of studies and research. Medical research may well have saved dear ones not to speak of myself.  I realize that research can be skewed to prove any point, but I’m still fascinated about what people [say they] think.

At the same time, I hate waste, which the kindergarten study is, and an attempt to extrapolate behavior from too narrow a study group, as in the following example.

In last Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, Christopher Shea reported on Shane Frederick’s research project, “Overestimating Others’ Willingness to Pay,” in his “Behavioral Economics” column. According to Shea, Frederick found that “People significantly overestimate what other people will pay for consumer goods and other experiences.”

My problem with the project: Frederick studied only students–at MIT, Harvard and Michigan–343 in all. The fact that students said they’d pay $690 to have perfect teeth while they thought others would pay $1,350 tells me what some students might think. Does that mean that a mother of two or a father with kids in college, a retired couple, single man of 35 or 50 who begins to worry about signs of aging, or an unemployed farm or construction worker would think the same? Doesn’t it matter who your friends, co-workers and acquaintances are?

Do you know of unnecessary studies and/or flawed research that annoys you? Can you help me understand the validity of studying kindergarten students when you’d be better off spending that money to improve early childhood education? Do you think a study of 100 percent college students’ consumer behavior reflects what the general population thinks and/or does?

 kindergartenstudents

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