How analytics are misused to support an agenda

Columnist Rob Enderle uses gun control to showcase how analytics is too often used to confirm bad decisions that were already made, rather than to help assure a good decision.

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One interesting result is that with all the emphasis on assault weapons bans, there appears to be no additional benefit from them.   On the other hand, New Zealand’s aggressive program that both does background checks and requires training has had a massive positive impact across the board. This suggests you either do a New Zealand type program or you take the money and spend it someplace else where you would have a greater impact.  

Often market analysis will showcase what the market requires for a product. To be successful you need a number of elements. A big consumer product targeting the iPod comes to mind in that the company bringing it to market had a list of things they knew they needed to do and on that list was the ability to migrate iTunes users’ music. The firm launching this potential “iPod killer” decided that was too risky and even though they knew this was a primary requirement, and they had created the feature, they didn’t release it. The product failed spectacularly.

This kind of thing may eventually drive me insane, but market analysis done right will tell you what you absolutely need to accomplish and yet some managers will treat that list like it’s discretionary, which it clearly isn’t. Much like finishing 90 percent of a race isn’t the same as winning it, not doing what the analysis says is a requirement generally assures failure.

Studies are often compromised by one side or the other

When you get to the final conclusions of the Columbia study you see the researches resonate my main point. A massive number of these studies are compromised by one side or the other so you can’t trust the conclusions. Meanwhile, both sides are using them as foundational arguments in an effort to beat the other, the goals of protection and saving lives almost completely lost in the process. After what appears to be millions of dollars in studies the only sustaining conclusions are that if you can keep guns from people likely to commit homicides, suicides or unsupervised children under 17 you will reduce gun based deaths. I doubt there is a person on the planet who couldn’t, off the top of their heads, come to that same conclusion without spending a dime.  

Here is the real irony: For years the NRA has aggressively blocked the CDC from doing gun studies. The President did an end-run and was able to get CDC research funded. Most of what resulted actually supported the NRA (I chose a pro-NRA site for the citation) and were generally consistent with what Columbia University found. Sadly, I expect the gun control advocates now think the CDC study was a bad idea rather than concluding that much of what they advocated was wrong. Clearly the NRA was just as thick- headed. (By the way there is a funny segment on The Daily show on this, the most interesting part is that the congressman who sponsored the legislation blocking the CDC from doing this research now supports the effort). Go figure...

Analytics should be about finding the truth not about supporting an already-taken position. That’s the only way you’ll get to a valid decision.   Something to noodle on over the weekend.  

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