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PR Reviewed Research

Neuroskeptic iconNeuroskepticBy NeuroskepticAugust 22, 2010 7:08 PM


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Suppose you've done some research, but unfortunately, it's crap.


Maybe your methods are flawed. Or your data don't really support the conclusions you want to draw from them.

You seem to be out of options. You could release the research, but then people would criticize it, or you could keep quiet about it, but then you've wasted all the time and money you spent on it. Neither is very attractive.

But there's a third option. Publicize the conclusions of your work, along with the best cherry-picked results, before you actually release the full report. Write a press release which "for reasons of space" only discusses the sexy stuff. You could even make it out to be a "leak", if you were feeling really devious.

Everyone will start talking about what you've said, despite the fact that without the full data, it's just your claims that you might as well have pulled out of thin air. Yet no-one can criticize it because no-one knows what your methods were. Leave it a few weeks, and then when you eventually do release the details, no-one will care any more - but the message has got out there.


On an unrelated note, a British management consultancy firm have done some research concluding that British local government employees work less efficiently than their counterparts in business, due to poor management. Sounds like a (very very big and lucrative) job for a management consultant!

Unfortunately, the details of the research aren't available yet. Their website tell us that

The research into public sector productivity will be available as a down load from this site when the report is released at the end of August.

But the conclusions are available right now, and are all over the media, including even the BBC whose remit must have expanded to cover advertising while I wasn't looking.

Junior staff in local authorities were, on average, productive only 32% of the time during working hours, said [the] management consultancy... It said this compared with an average of 44% in the private sector.

Is this true? We have absolutely no way of knowing because all we're told about the methodology was that it involved

1,855 surveys of managers and supervisors (173 from local government officers), 376 day-long observations, comprised of a minute by minute categorisation of how the manager in question spent his time, of which 36 were from local government.

Sounds like it could be pretty solid. Or it could be complete bollocks. The devil is in the details as it always is with research: what were the survey questions? Were the samples representative? What was the compliance rate? Were the people who did the minute-to-minute categorization of manager's time blinded to whether the manager was public or private sector?

No doubt we'll be informed as to all this in about two weeks, by which time no-one will care - but the message has got out there.


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