Thursday, January 20, 2011

Art Solution: Peer Reviewed Journal

[U]nlike in health care or the pharmaceutical industry, in the arts we’re (usually) not dealing with life and death. It’s okay if we make a mistake once in a while; the world will continue on. So we don’t need to have 99.9% or even 95% certainty that the choices we make are the right ones before we move ahead. Indeed, as of now it’s likely that we make some decisions with virtually no certainty of their wisdom at all! To the extent that research can play a role in reducing the uncertainty we face in making decisions within a strategic framework, that research can provide real, quantifiable value to its users.
Let me elaborate on that last point. One of the most powerful tools I learned in business school was decision analysis, a conceptual approach useful for incorporating uncertainties into scenario planning. A common concept in decision analysis is what’s known as “the value of perfect information.” You know you have perfect information when there is absolutely no uncertainty in the outcomes that might result from an action or set of actions you take. The value of perfect information is the difference in your “expected value” (i.e., the result of the best possible strategy given the average of all possible outcomes, weighted by probability) with certainty and without. For example, if you’re only 60% sure that taking the test prep class will get you to the GRE score you need, there’s a 40% chance the amount you spend on the class will be a waste. In the language of decision analysis, that’s equivalent to saying that you can “expect” to lose 40% of your investment. With perfect information that taking the class will lead to the result you want, you have no risk of wasting that money. Thus, the value of perfect information in this case is 40% of the price of the class.

Research, especially research in the arts, can’t give us perfect information. But it can sure as hell give us better information than we already have. Even if it can reduce our uncertainty that our strategy is the right one from 40% to, say, 20%, that’s still quite a boost to our confidence. But the value of research is only as high as its quality. Badly designed or poorly executed studies can be next to useless in reducing uncertainty, or worse, can actually increase it by confusing the underlying issues.
That's it. It's a succinct, mathematical approach to why, even though we can't say anything absolutely, we can still talk about verifiable truth about the arts.

Ian says, next:
Unfortunately, no certification body currently exists to ensure the research conducted in the arts is of a sufficient quality to be helpful.
Forget certification body, what about a peer-reviewed journal? If there was an Art the way there is a Nature or a Lancet... what an incredible public service that would be to the arts!

What would it take, Ian?

2 comments:

Ian David Moss said...

Hmm....I think there are some journals, actually... Cultural Economics is one, and I've definitely come across a few others in my travels. The problem is that no one reads them besides academics. They're typically behind a paywall and accept articles written in a manner that's not always accessible to non-researchers.

I think what we really need is a think tank. Obviously some of the work I'm doing is moving in that direction, but I definitely can't do it alone. That's why I want people to get educated about this stuff. The only way we'll be able to deal with the volume of research that comes out with any integrity is if a large number of people can attack it from an informed perspective.

pro said...
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