Terrorists, Twitter, pizza and privacy

Elisa Long’s bittersweet Washington Post blog about probability, cancer and winning the TV game show “The Price is Right” and a Marketing Science study about the perils of using Twitter in customer service are just two examples of INFORMS news that reached a broader audience.

Visit the INFORMS Newsroom at for news about analytics and INFORMS press releases about intriguing scholarship appearing in INFORMS journals.

Following are excerpts from INFORMS in the news:

Trust the Process

During the recent INFORMS Healthcare conference in Nashville, Mike Fabel, a senior health systems engineer with the Mayo Clinic, and Victoria Jordan, Ph.D., executive director of Strategic Management and Systems Engineering with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, sat down to discuss their role in the healthcare delivery system.

“I have a manufacturing background,” said Fabel. “We just have a different way of viewing things as far as looking for waste in the process. I think we bring a simplified, team-based effort to looking for waste.”

Fabel added that in his experience, physicians, nurses and other team members have the necessary skills to rethink the status quo but need the guidance, facilitation and tools the engineering department brings to the table to help them map out new solutions.

- Nashville Medical News, Sept. 3

Benefits of Counterfeit Fashion Competition

Even pirates have their redeeming qualities.

The counterfeiter might be a profit-sapping scourge to many designers, but recently published research from a trio of academics shows that fakes can also push brands to up their game – particularly in terms of aesthetics.

A study published in Marketing Science academic journal looked at 31 brands that sold fashion leather and sport shoes in China from 1993 to 2004. The Chinese market proved to be something of a petri dish to the researchers, since it saw a major influx of counterfeits after 1995, when the government pivoted away from the enforcement of footwear trademarks to respond to problems in other sectors, including gas explosions and food poisonings.

“Established companies don’t sit idly by while they are copied shamelessly,” said Yi Qian, a professor at University of British Columbia Sauder School of Business, who cowrote the study. “They react by improving their products to set themselves apart from their illegal competitors.”

– Women’s Wear Daily, Aug. 20

How Statistics Guided INFORMS Member Through Cancer - and ‘The Price is Right’ Drew Carey announced the Kia’s actual price: $16,232. Amid audience cheers, he turned to me and smiled. “Congratulations, Elisa! You just won a new car! You are so lucky!”

Indeed, as I had learned two months earlier, I am exceptionally talented at hitting low probabilities. This episode of “The Price Is Right” was a special aimed at raising breast cancer awareness, and I had just been diagnosed, at 33, with a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer known as triple-negative. Would I survive, and how? Numbers, as usual, contained the answer. While they governed countless choices surrounding surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, they had also just won me a new car.

– Elisa Long, Washington Post, Aug. 7,

Why Companies Should Respond When Twitter Rage Spikes

A new study finds that once a business responds to a specific grievance on Twitter, it could also open the floodgates to more criticism. But that doesn’t mean brands should clam up when an issue arises. Twitter can be a helpful tool for companies hoping to regain the trust of unhappy patrons, and responding to customers on public forums is better than not responding at all. In fact, reaching out can greatly improve the way people think about a company.

“It’s still worthwhile to respond to complaints, because the net effect is still effective. [People] are more likely to complain because they expect the company will help [them] more,” study co-author Liye Ma, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, told The Huffington Post.

The study focused on customers’ perceptions of companies and how the relationship changes over time.

– Huffington Post, Aug. 12

Belgian Train Attack Part of New Terrorist Trend

In an analysis of terror attacks from 1982 to 2011, Arnold Barnett, an [operations] researcher from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found “strong and statistically significant evidence that successful acts of terror have ‘gone to ground’ in recent years: attacks against aviation were concentrated early in the three decades studied whereas those against rail were concentrated later.”

One reason is that terrorists may consider railways more effective targets. The brave actions of the three Americans who thwarted Friday’s attempted assault notwithstanding, “attacks on rail are far less likely to be stopped once in progress,” Dr. Barnett wrote.

Indeed, two weeks after the 2005 suicide bombings on the London underground, a very similar attack also involving three trains was attempted there. Although the plot failed because the explosives were faulty, no precautions after the earlier event succeeded in averting a near-recurrence.

Still, Barnett – as other experts have before him – also emphasized that the actual risk of being on either a plane or a train during a terrorist attack is minuscule.

– Yahoo News, Aug. 23

The Fierce Debate About Healthcare Analytics and Privacy

Last week, I was a speaker at the Healthcare 2015 INFORMS conference in Nashville. I happened to sit in on an interesting panel discussion where there was a lively debate about the use of psychographic data for healthcare analysis.

What took me by surprise was the sharp polarization in the panel around the issue of “creepiness.” One of the panelists, a senior analytics executive from a large hospital system, was vehement in his view that the use of information other than that explicitly covered by data privacy agreements with the patient, amounts to a breach of trust in the hospital-patient relationship, and hence “creepy.” On the other end of the spectrum, a former hospital executive, now an analytics entrepreneur, was of the view that any and all information available should go into the analysis purely from the point of view of improving the quality of the analysis.

– CIO, Aug. 4

Outing People Who Order Pizza Online

What happens when you order a pizza without having to deal with a real live human being? Well, apparently, you order all the toppings.

People consume more calories and spend more money when they order food online and don’t have to face the embarrassment of revealing their true pizza desires to a sentient being, according to a forthcoming paper in the journal Management Science.

The study – from researchers at the business schools of the University of Toronto, Duke University and the National University of Singapore – confirms something we all kind of knew: We let our guard down online, uninhibited by the social constraints of in-person interaction.

– Huffington Post, Aug. 4

Ordering Pizza Online...

If you’re face-to-face with a waitress at your local corner bistro, you might be a little hesitant to order two loaves of garlic bread, fettuccine Alfredo and a chocolate lava cake just for your own fattening gratification. But just as how in space no one can hear you scream, on the Internet, no one can see your true gluttony. And even better, typing in your credit card number just doesn’t create the same pangs of guilty frivolity than forking over wads of cash at a counter.

A study published in Management Science affirms this phenomenon – and reveals that when we order online, we take in more calories and throw around more cash when it comes to pizza, specifically.

– Munchies, Aug. 6

Complied by Barry List, associate director of communications for INFORMS. To share your news-making research, contact List at or 1-800-4INFORMs.