Tuesday, 19 June 2012

How not to do a scientific study.

Today the media have been talking about a study that shows there are dangers with people working too hard and becoming "screen slaves". Here is the BBC report with the usual press release sound bites.

At first glance this looks a nice example for my statistics course of carrying out a health related observational study. So I wanted to see the details. It is an online survey of 2010 office workers (online always gets me worried to start with). There is no link to the survey on the BBC page so I go to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy page and find that the study is all related to their "Workout at Work Day". On their website there is even less detail about the study. They only report the study's findings and then only very sketchily and with no warnings about reliability, and no analysis at all.

One of the society's aims is to get physiotherapy recognised as a medical profession. Producing "puff" articles like this, where you do not give the content and you do not present data in a scientific way, is not the way to do it. It does not look professional and it is not professional from a scientific view-point. I am really disappointed in what they have done, this is a missed opportunity and reflects badly amongst medical professionals.

At least it does provide a case-study for my teaching next year, as an example of how NOT to do a survey, and how NOT to present your findings.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Gender Quotas

A few weeks ago there was a big story about the number of women in higher management positions and senior positions in general. The debate on BBC Breakfast was about whether there should be quotas in the work-place to secure gender equality. Edwina Currie was arguing against them and a journalist from a women's magazine was arguing for them. Now I don't think I have ever agreed with Edwina before in my life but I had to agree here.

Quotas are the wrong way of going about it. You want the best people for a job doing that job. So gender should not be an issue at all. It should not be something you even think about when you make an appointment. So why are women still discriminated against in the workplace?

I was talking to a woman who works in the NHS and they have been blocked from promotion several times because her boss does not think that women can do the job. This is the sort of attitude that a quota system could address by getting rid of the old boys network. But the old boys network does not just discriminate against women, it discriminates against all talent as the old boys protect their own interests. You only have to read Dilbert to see how this is a problem in many industries. A better way to address this is to make the appointments process more transparent and to make the legal frameworks more robust so that those that have been discriminated against have proper protections.

Still going beyond this, why are women not better represented at higher levels in both the public and private sector? Family will always play an issue but this should not be treated in the - well women have children, overly simplistic way it currently is. What happens is that working families have to manage work-life balance and that someone has to compromise work to meet family needs. This does not have to be a woman and it could just as easily be a man, but it has more usually been the men who have been pushed towards career over life-balance. If we set quotas we are not addressing this deeper issue about work. That is that now we can manage a better work life balance. We do not need to work the long hours of the past. We can work in more flexible ways and men and women can both have a better work-life balance. Children can get to see both of their parents! If we can work better and smarter then talent will become the deciding factor not who is most prepared to compromise work versus family. In this way we all benefit as the best people get the jobs and we don't waste the talent we have available. This benefits men and women by improving everyone's quality of life. Then maybe we can find some sort of workplace equality.

Here is a nice article about the statistics of gender with earning power and hours worked
Why the Gender Gap Won't Go Away. Ever

So I think it can be reduced but only if we take a bigger picture and spread opportunities more widely by changing the ways we work. I completely agree with Bertrand Russell in his Praise of Idleness.