O.R. IN THE NEWS

Are bad book reviews good for sales?

Compiled by Barry List

The INFORMS archive of podcasts continues to offer provocative conversations with leading O.R. practitioners and thinkers. It includes recent interviews about March Madness with Joel Sokol and Sheldon Jacobson, as well as an interview with the INFORMS Round Table’s Steve Sashihara on optimization and with former BusinessWeek reporter Stephen Baker on the Final Jeopardy match featuring IBM’s Watson. Visit www.scienceofbetter.org and www.informs.org to download the latest selections.
Remember to share your news making research with the INFORMS Communications Department. Contact INFORMS Communications Director Barry List at barry.list@informs.org or 1-800-4INFORMs.

And now, the O.R. newsclips:

The unreasonable effectiveness of O.R.

“The two-step described above – finding a better way and showing that it is the best possible – lies at the core of a discipline called Operations Research, or OR.

“The OR expert straddles business, information technology (IT) and the mathematics sciences. The business world is rich in process environments whose efficiency may be profitably improved. The OR expert transforms the ‘problem’ into models and algorithms that can be programmed on computers to yield usable results. (In our example, we went from the world of backyard grilling into the abstraction of sequencing ‘operations.’) This process, as much art as science, often needs a judicious synthesis of tools from mathematics, computer science, and statistics.

“Our lives are improved by OR every day. To highlight a few examples, using OR:

“• Utilities generate electricity inexpensively and deliver it reliably to your home.
“• The postal service and express shippers optimize deliveries and pick-ups on the fly.
“• Retailers decide how much of each item to stock, how to price it and where to display it.”

– Sanjay Saigal, The Atlantic, March 11

Better to be reviled than ignored

“There is no such thing as bad publicity, goes the adage. This is bunk. Just ask Toyota, a firm that once had a peerless reputation for reliability but spent much of last year battling allegations that its cars had defective accelerators. Or Sanlu, a Chinese company that was revealed to be peddling poisonous milk. It is now bankrupt and its top executives are in jail.

“Yet if your starting point is obscurity, even bad publicity may be helpful, argues Alan Sorensen, an economics professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. He looked at the effect of book reviews in the New York Times. In a study published in Marketing Science, he found that well-known authors who earned glowing reviews for a new book could expect to sell 42 percent more copies, whereas a negative review caused sales to drop by 15 percent. For unknown authors, however, it did not matter whether a book was panned or lauded. Simply being reviewed in the Times bumped up sales by a third.”

– Economist, Feb. 24

WWII operations researcher Gillespie dies at 100

“During World War II, Mr. Gillespie was chief of operational research for the Second Division of the Eighth Air Force, based in England. In an effort to reduce the number of downed airplanes, he cross-examined pilots after their bombing runs and verified his suspicion that they were flying in patterns that German pilots and antiaircraft gunners were picking up on. Countermeasures greatly reduced losses.”

– New York Times, March 9

AAAS paper models rapid supply chain for humanitarian & medical emergencies

“Getting blood or other perishable supplies to an area that’s been struck by an earthquake or hurricane isn’t as simple as asking what brown can do for you...

“Efficient supply chains have long been a goal of manufacturers, but transport in fragile networks – where supply, demand and delivery routes may be in extremely rapid flux – requires a different approach, said Anna Nagurney of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who presented the new work. Rather than considering the shortest path from one place to another to maximize profit, her system aims for the cleanest path at minimum cost, while capturing factors such as the perishability of the product and the uncertainly of supply routes. ‘You don’t know where demand is, so it’s tricky,” said Nagurney. ‘It’s a multicriteria decision-making problem.’ ”

– Science News, Feb. 21

The lemming effect and determining your marketing budget

“Firms often ask me, ‘What is the right marketing budget for me?’ Many firms look at their competitors or ‘industry norms’ to get an answer. Patients often do the same thing when they visit a doctor, asking for a treatment or drug that seemed to have worked for a friend or relative.”

– Gary Lilien, Distinguished Research Professor of Management Science, commpro.biz, Feb. 17

Big data, analytics, and the path from insights to value

How the smartest organizations are embedding analytics to transform information into insight and then action. Findings and recommendations from the first annual New Intelligent Enterprise Global Executive study.

– MIT Sloan Management Review, cover story, Dec. 21, 2010

Barry List (barry.list@informs.org) is the director of communications for INFORMS.