There is an additional article online (only) associated with the “Math will Rock Your World” article in Business Week. Entitled Search Advertising by the Numbers, the article concentrates on the problem of bidding on keywords. Here is a quote:
Khan, an accountant by training, looks at the process like a linear programming problem. That may sound exotic to mathophobes, but the concept is simple. He sets a goal that he aims to maximize. In Khan’s case, that’s revenue. Then he factors in the constraints, such as cost per keyword.
This can get complicated. If he bids for the word “loan,” for example, he competes with much of the lending industry. That drives up the price. What’s more, it’s a big, broad word, which means the results are much more complex than a far cheaper targeted keyword phrase such as “Tuscaloosa mortgage.”
“If we can get one dollar out of an auto loan, we can get $20 if we do a mortgage loan,” Khan says. “A keyword like ‘loan’ can deliver either of the two products. So should we buy the keyword based on potential of auto loan or mortgage loan?” He has his team do the math
As always, the article doesn’t go into any real detail of models or algorithms, but it does make our field much more visible.
Just as I was bemoaning the lack of press coverage, Business Week comes up with a cover story entitled “Math Will Rock Your World“. The field of operations research is even mentioned by name, which is a tremendous step for the area!
Wired magazine pointed me to www.badscience.net, which is fascinating! There was a posting relevant to issues of publishing science which seems very relevant to OR:
Science is done by scientists, who write it up. Then a press release is written by a non-scientist, who runs it by their non-scientist boss, who then sends it to journalists without a science education who try to convey difficult new ideas to an audience of either lay people, or more likely – since they’ll be the ones interested in reading the stuff – people who know their way around a t-test a lot better than any of these intermediaries. Finally, it’s edited by a whole team of people who don’t understand it.
Lots of good stuff there.
Operations Research has a hard time getting into the press. Partially it is our fault: OR people as a whole are pretty modest and are great at seeing two sides to every issue (after all, it is this dynamic that makes for the best models: start small, and add to address issues with the resulting solutions). I am certainly guilty of this: I turned down more requests to talk about my work with Major League Baseball than I can count, due primarily to worries about client relations and being accurately portrayed.
Partially it is the fault of much of the media, who are unwilling to assume a very high “lowest common denominator” in their readership. OR continues to be a weird black box, and our core values of analytical thinking, using data, and working with models are rarely portrayed.
One person who does get it is Virginia Postrel, who wrote a very fine article for the Boston Globe last year (and I don’t say that just because I am quoted!). Here is what she had to say about publishing about operations research (in the context of the rise in productivity, which OR certainly contributes to):
In today’s Boston Globe Ideas section, I look at one piece of that very big story [the rapid rise in productivity]: the spreading use of operations research techniques once confined to theory. (What’s operations research? The story explains that too, or tries to without using any math, graphs, or jargon about optimizing subject to constraints or finding interior solutions. For more on the field, see the INFORMS site.)
Of course, very few general-interest publications would let a writer spend nearly 2,000 words writing about operations research–or, for that matter, rising productivity.
I stumbled across her website and blog, and she has a number of interesting posts on productivity (generally her 2004 posts, like the one I quoted that mentions her OR article). Her recent work is on glamor and aesethics, which doesn’t appeal to me as much but might to others. Lots of interesting things to read throughout her website.