Inspirational Weekend Reading

4 July 2009 at 11:05 am 4 comments

| Nicolai Foss |

I am reading Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science in which Dr. Goldacre explodes the ridiculous claims of medical quacks of all stripes (e.g., homeopathy, the idiocies of the media re the interpretation of research results, hostility towards “mainstream medicine,” etc.). The book is much needed and very, very entertaining.

And it makes me think that management research needs its Goldacre. A few quick ideas:

  1. Perhaps we need something akin to the Cochrane Collaboration. We can all agree that “evidence-based management” is a good idea. Indeed, it is such a good idea that there should be no need for writing books or blogs about it. We should all embrace and internalize the idea. However, in practice, there is probably much too little effort devoted to meta-analysis and other synthetic efforts in management research.
  2. There are quacks in management. Some of them write books. Some consult. Shrugging the shoulder is the typical reaction on the part of management academics. Should we treat them more harshly? Should management quacks be identified and fought?
  3. Perhaps the majority of research articles in management end with a variation over “There is a need for more research.” Articles in medicine used to end similarly. However, as Goldacre notes (p. 57), “… it is a little known fact that this very phrase has been banned from the British Medical Journal for many years, on the grounds that it adds nothing: you may say what research is missing, on whom, how, measuring what, and why you want to do it, but the hand-waving, superficially open-minded call for ‘more research’ is meaningless and unhelpful.” Amen!

Entry filed under: - Foss -, Management Theory.

The Higher Education Bubble How Active are Governments in the Morality Business?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Warren Miller  |  5 July 2009 at 7:36 am

    Hear, hear, Nicolai! Bravo!!

    My favorite example of overwrought and inept “management research” is Collins’s Good to Great. Niendorf & Beck’sGood to Great, or Just Good? and Resnick & Smunt’s From Good to Great to. . . do first-rate jobs of debunking Collins’s “research” – “sampling on the dependent variable” is at the heart of what Collins did wrong.

    The number of major corporations that have fallen for Collins’s “research” is no surprise; they did the same thing 27 years ago with Peters & Waterman’s In Search of Excellence; two weeks ago I saw Collins’s book on a table in the reception area of the D.C.-area headquarters of an NYSE-listed company – perhaps Beltway proximity had something to do with it. But I am astonished by the plethora of respeciable and well-known MBA programs that extol its virtues and even include it as required reading in course syllabi. I guess even the “researchers” are drinking the Kool Aid. Wow.

  • 2. ben goldacre  |  6 July 2009 at 12:19 pm

    send me examples of bad science and poorly evidenced claims from your world! always want to find more nonsense!

  • 3. Russ Coff  |  6 July 2009 at 7:37 pm

    There are certainly charlatans out there. However, the most serious limitations probably come from the most well-intentioned researchers. Specifically, much of the management research has hidden normative agendas that undermine positive or descriptive science.

    In strategy, much of the literature overtly seeks to maximize shareholder value as though this were synonymous with competitive advantage. Even is one believes that shareholders “should” be residual claimants that doesn’t make it so. Practically, this would not be the case unless factor markets are perfectly competitive (an assumption that is certainly not held in strategy circles).

    Similarly, many stakeholder theorists are so anxious to promote “sound stakeholder management” (e.g., normative agenda) that they fail to study how organizations actually manage stakeholders.

    Along these lines, strategic HR researchers still push “high involvement HR systems” because they feel that employees should be treated well. The effort is to prove that these practices enhance organizational performance to further that agenda.

    I am not at all opposed to normative scholarship. However, I believe we need a more explicit separation of normative from positive work.

    Along these lines, Wagner & Gooding had a classic paper on how empirical research on participation in decision-making was influenced by prevailing political beliefs:
    Wagner, J. A. III, & Gooding, R. Z. (1987). Effects of societal trends on participation research. Administrative Science Quarterly, 32, 241-262.

  • 4. Ty Mackey  |  7 July 2009 at 5:54 pm

    Russ, I nominate you to write the Sokal-esque stakeholder management paper.

    I like “The Witch Doctors: Making Sense of the Management Gurus” by Micklethwait & Wooldridge for discussing quackery in management.

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