April 1996 Volume 23 Number 2
Reaching Out with the Right Name
By Alfred Blumenstein
One of INFORMS' major challenges lies in outreach to a wide variety of constituencies.
These include consumers of OR services; employers who might establish --
or disestablish -- OR groups; government agencies that allocate research
funds; others that award research grants; and groups that provide recognition,
such as the National Academies and National Research Council panels and
committees. We want all these groups and individuals to recognize our field
and its current and potential contributions.
This mission involves telling the world about our many accomplishments,
but -- most important and complex -- having them identify those successes
with us. Many of our successes have been methodological, and we have gained
recognition for those, but not enough has happened lately.
Many of the substantive contributions have resulted in major paradigm shifts
in existing disciplines. John Little has been a major innovator in shifting
marketing, Dick Larson has made major contributions in allocation of police
and other emergency services, Jon Caulkins has had significant impact on
drug-enforcement policy, Tom Cook has re-shaped the travel industry, and
Bob Herman has transformed the way people look at traffic flow. In criminology,
a number of colleagues and I at Carnegie Mellon, including Jacqueline Cohen
and Daniel Nagin, have contributed to a significant reshaping of that discipline.
The readers of OR/MS Today all recognize these important contributions as
coming from "operations research," or perhaps from "OR/MS,"
but it is very difficult to make that linkage clear to larger outside communities.
They take these contributions to be of the original field, and they are,
but they came from us entering the field.
It is particularly difficult to get the press to recognize "OR"
as part of the contribution. In my own case, for example, when a reporter
calls me for comment on some story (as has happened quite often recently),
they usually end up with questions of my identity -- what am I a professor
of? When I say "operations research," they suddenly become very
baffled. They ask what that is, they wonder how that would qualify me to
their readers as an "expert" in the field, and they become anxious
about how their editors -- and especially their readers -- will deal with
that term. Even after all these identity questions are answered clearly,
I almost always get identified as a "criminologist" (which is
not inherently incorrect, but not in accord with my prompt and not my professorship),
and "operations research" is almost never mentioned.
This experience is much too common and widespread to be a quirky coincidence.
It is an important indication of a fundamental problem we face -- how to
develop an identity for our field that will become recognizable and that
will gain us the widespread recognition we fully deserve. Sid Hess, in various
surveys, established that most of us like and identify with "operations
research." This is especially true for those whose civil-service or
military job classification uses that name. "OR/MS" (or the spelled-out
version, "operations research and the management sciences," as
incorporated into the INFORMS name) represents a continuation of the overly
complex accommodation we have used for the past 20 years to maintain the
joint, symmetric relationship between ORSA and TIMS.
Now that we have a new unity, one of our major challenges is to establish
that unity under a single identity that we can live with and that will trigger
a positive and appreciative response from the outside world. We can do that
in two ways. We can try to make our own favorite, "operations research,"
much more widely recognized and appreciated outside our own community, and
that is a major challenge for INFORMS and all its members.
Alternatively, we can try to rally under some other name. Names that have
been suggested include "decision engineering" or even "decisioneering,"
"systems engineering," "decision science," and many
others represented by the diverse names of academic or corporate departments
one finds in our directory. I am most pessimistic that we will be able to
rally under any of those.
Another possibility is to adopt a neologism that we might all accept, and
then try to transmit that to the larger community. Feedback-systems engineers
did that with "cybernetics" some decades ago, and captured considerable
attention for their work as a result. One possibility that emerged during
the merger discussion was "aristology," meaning "the study
of the best," but that never generated much support.
Addressing the name problem is one of the challenges being faced by the
Outreach Committee, chaired by Sid Hess (firstname.lastname@example.org).
This committee is responsible for developing strategies for increasing our
effectiveness in appealing to our diverse constituencies. They are also
concerned with recruitment of member and journal subscribers, but we recognize
that success in identity will certainly feed recruiting. As you think of
ways to help this Outreach Committee to do its job, think of how salient
the name problem is in that mission, and let's see if we can come up with
some better name suggestions.
Computer scientists have gained great recognition through the computer-chessmaster
competition that offered a $400,000 prize to the first computer scientist
to beat the human chessmaster. Is there anything we can do that will similarly
capture the public's imagination about us? If it were to work comparably,
it would certainly be worth our $400,000.
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