Hidden In Plain Sight

I do not usually subscribe to conspiracy theories. However, I find myself wondering if operations research could have reached its current state of obscurity by chance. Consider what you might do, if you were tasked with hiding operations research. You would probably realize that it would be impossible to keep it completely secret; so you might come up with an alternative approach: make it very difficult to get information about operations research and its benefits, and use disinformation to confuse those who might be interested in it.

To implement this strategy, you might take the following steps:

  • Encourage operations research journals to publish papers that almost no one (except for a few specialists) can understand;
  • Do not require operations research journal articles to relate to real world situations or problems;
  • Make sure that the papers in the practice journal, that describe successful operations research projects, are only available to a few subscribers and research libraries, and never publicize their existence;
  • Bury the videos describing world class operations research projects deep inside a single website, and make some of them available only as a membership benefit;
  • Stop using the name operations research, and replace it with the ambiguous term analytics;
  • Do not promote operations research, and instead use all resources to promote analytics, big data, and data science.

These steps happen to correspond exactly with the current approach to ‘promoting’ operations research in the United States. And, this approach has had the expected result: very few people understand operations research or its benefits.

Recently however, there has been a surprising development: the editor of the journal ‘Manufacturing & Service Operations Management’ has created a review blog, where authors can present a non-technical summery of their articles. He is also, encouraging authors to publicize their articles through social media.

While this is a small step at a single journal, it represents a new approach to promoting operations research. Imagine what might happen, if instead of restricting access to information about operations research and its value, we took advantage of the internet, social media, and thousands of operations research professionals to publicize its value:

  • Imagine if all operations research journals began to encourage research designed to solve real problems, and then publicized that research;
  • Imagine if thousands of operations research professionals began to tweet, share, and blog about their research and the value of operations research;
  • Imagine if large numbers of videos describing successful operations research projects were placed on YouTube and promoted on social media;
  • Imagine if free online journals describing successful operations research projects were created and widely distributed.

Now, imagine a future in which the practice of operations research is ubiquitous.