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 Self-Serving Funded Studies to Be Believed?

Not a day goes by where I don't see yet another "funded" studied making conclusions that favor the companies that paid for the study. The simple fact is, as we all know, if a company pays Analyst Company X to study something and reach a conclusion, Analyst Company X had better come to the conclusion that favors that company, or they won't be getting money from that company anymore. The fact that companies feel the need to create phony reports in order to "win" at any cost should tell you one thing: they are in it for your money, period.

 (Submitted by Chuck Talk Thu Mar 24, 2005 )

  If there is one thing that has always bothered me, it is the phenomenon known as "The Emperor's New Clothes." If you remember the old tale, the Emperor is sold the finest set of clothes by a tailor who weaves with "magic cloth" so fine and elegant that only those of great taste could see it. Naturally, when the Emperor doesn't see it, he feigns seeing it lest he be thought of as being born of low-birth (a fear of being human that leads him to a state of suspended disbelief). This suspension leads the Emperor to roam around his empire in the nude, declaring that only the finest minds can see his new clothes. Only the final act of a reasonable man tells the Empreror that he is naked and has been taken by the tailor. Well, today, let me be your reasonable man and rain on the parade of FUD.

If the "get the facts" campaign were anything more than a fine suit of magic cloth, I would not have a problem with its methods. I think people can compete on the merits of their products fairly and honestly, but I dislike any method that deceives or skews a study in order to "win" at something. If you can't compare apples to apples - your premises are false. Hell, anyone who has been through any of the more rigorous scientific method classes will tell you that two subjects that are not similar can be effectively compared without sufficient control, and that you don't start research with a conclusion in hand.

That is the real problem with funded studies. They are biased, and they are blatantly and patently false. They can't be trusted and for anyone to take their research and pass it off as legitimate is simply wrong. I am thankful to see that some writers do not allow these company-funded reports to be deemed as "pure research" - for they simply are not and can not be considered to be truthful. The simple fact is that these reports are written for the gullible, the people who don't like change and for those that companies believe will do what they are told without question.

Personally, I couldn't see doing business with or taking advice from a company that would simply consider cash as the primary motivating factor behind their research. Product Managers can tell you which companies are engaged in research that they call "media whores" - willing to do anything for a fast buck, and those who will not engage in such activity at any price. The simple fact is that if a company takes money to conduct research - they need to announce that fact when the reports come out, and it should not have to be dragged out of them. Further, the companies should have to submit such studies to a scientific review panel that would determine whether the study is accurate, or whether there is information that is being skewed to reach a conclusion - thereby invalidating the methodology.

Oh, I know that everyone in the public companies that make up the analyst firms would scream bloody murder if they were to be held to the accountability and accuracy standards that real statisticians and scientists are, but it would give the public an accurate picture of the truth. I am not saying we should abridge their rights to publish flawed material - but we shoul dhave some measure to know the real value of their findings. Do they produce truthful and honest work, or is it all bought and paid for, without a bit of care as to the actual facts? Do they coach respondents by couching their questions with a "I need you to say.." or "It would be better if you could say.." as I have seen done in the past? Analysts are not without bias when paid to have one.

Isn't it time that analysis was used to make accurate decisions and not influenced by dollars versus facts? Isn't it time that those who declare they have the time to do such studies for money were made to be accurate in their methods and analysis, or at least exposed for their faulty methodology?

Imagine if Doctors were simply able to say things like, "Our study shows that leeches are more effective than aspirin for your headaches" or "Studies show that whiskey relieves colds better than NyQuil" or "Surgeons not as effective as witch doctors at patient healthcare and bedside manners." Would we trust the people who performed such studies? Would we believe them when the facts don't support their conclusions, or when they compare two totally different items that are inequivalent and reach a conclusion based upon faulty methods?

If you said yes to the above questions, congratulations - you are a complete consumer. You are the perfect customer, you believe what you are told to believe. If you said no to the above, congratulations, you are indeed capable of critical thinking. That means you want to know more and you likely demand more than the average person. The more you know, the more you know statements and studies need to be studied for their accuracy.

I have made a suggestion before that the industry needs to fund research through an independent body, but that suggestion won't get traction as long as there are companies that are willing to use any methodology including deception, in order to achieve their goals. Some companies are desperate for news, some are just unwilling to see that they are wearing the Emperor's New Clothes, and some will do anything for dollars, because they have to play the revenues game.

If the industry cannot fund independent research that can write logical and accurate studies, then perhaps we need a research watchdog foundation. We need some industry wide and independent body that can determine if the studies themselves are flawed. Until we find ourselves with such a body, reviewing research for the methodology and accuracy of the conclusions being drawn, we will continue to see untrustworhty research, that is only advocacy disguised under a thin veneer of a sham called funded product studies.

I want to put out a notice to those who engage in such work: It's blatantly obvious, and there will be a point at which your reputation is lost. Whether this idea is industry-funded or simply done in the better interests of all - someone will call you on it - and I won't hesitate to do that myself when I see it.

If anyone is interested in starting up a Research Study Watchdog Committee, I would like to hear from you. I demand that reports not be skewed or tainted, and that I know when I am naked. No magic cloth for me, thank you. Just the facts, and no skewed facts. It is far better to udnerstand the risks than to be lied to for a fast buck.

If you want, you can contact me at agentorange@orangecrate.com, I'd like to hear your ideas about how we can make research an honest process again.

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