Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream, highlows pass as patent leathers, jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers. Very true, so they do. Black sheep dwell in every fold. All that glitters is not gold. Storks turn out to be but logs, bulls are but inflated frogs. So says Mrs. Cripps a dockside vendor in Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1878 opera, H.M.S. Pinafore.
Things are often not what they seem in the world of research. I have been in business as an economist for 13 years, and worked on staff in government, private firms and non-profits for about 15 years prior to that and never had I ever been encouraged to fudge my research. In my line of work honestly is essential, and I never make up numbers or change the results of research or models in order to make a particular point.
Recently a potential customer asked me to simply put my name on some research that they wanted to present. I of course told that prospect that not only was that request unethical but it would come back to haunt THEM in the future. I declined the project.
Needless to say, I found out later that the potential client had simply paid someone to shill for them and put his name on their number.
Doug Pinkham, the President of the Public Affairs Council recently wrote a blog post discussing the importance of ethics in business.(http://pac.org/blog/great-expectations-for-business ) According to his post, a recent Public Affairs Pulse survey, found that 80 percent of respondents said that it’s very important that companies make sure their employees behave ethically. Pinkham adds that a reputation for integrity is pretty much non-negotiable.
In this business integrity is essential. If we were to conduct deceptive research for one client it would taint what we did for all of our clients. And fake research is always, inevitably discovered. It may take years as in the case of say Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring which grossly inflated the dangers of DDT, or it may happen quickly like when chemists Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons announced that they had produced fusion energy at room temperature, and no other scientist could replicate their work.
It’s one thing to tell stories. Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm made a good living doing that. It’s another when made up stories are used to influence legislation or to intimidate people into behaving a particular way. Decisions based on bad data, false analysis or emotional anecdotes have real costs, costs that are borne by consumers, taxpayers, workers or shareholders. Banning the use of DDT led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people from malaria, overblown predictions of the impact of global warming is costing taxpayers and consumers billions in Germany as that country forces them to use inefficient power sources, and millions of dollars is wasted on so-called public health campaigns based on at best flimsy claims by flimsy organizations.
Skim milk masquerading as cream is not good for clients, not good for the political process and definitely not good for my company.