Ouch: Columbia b-school prof blasts academic research …

The blog InDecision posted the “presidential address” given at the conference of the Society for Consumer Psychology by Columbia Professor Michel Tuan Pham.

In his preamble, he bluntly questioned both the “external and internal relevance” of the research that he and his colleagues publish.


First, his perspective on external relevance … 

A number of thought leaders in our field, and in the closely related field of marketing, have expressed an increased concern about the relevance of our collective research for our key external constituents, namely the business community, the policy public community, and the consumer community.

Many academic leaders of the marketing field are incredibly dissatisfied with the general lack of managerial relevance of our research and … cite the need to be more relevant to our external constituents, i.e. “useful.”

I realize that a number of us … see research as a stand-alone discipline, one that should not to be subservient to the world of marketing and business .

However, I frankly disagree.

The vast majority of us, maybe 90 percent or so, work in business schools.

Therefore, it is somewhat disingenuous to claim that we are not partly accountable to the needs of the business community that supports us.

I recently reviewed a lot of materials on consumer behavior, including the content of our main journals and the major textbooks that summarize our field.

I must say that I was disappointed by how little I was able to find in our journals and major textbooks that seemed worth sharing as real consumer “insights.”

In fact, most the materials that I found useful and interesting came from trade books written by marketing practitioners, consumer ethnographers, branding consultants, etc. 


And, it doesn’t get any better when he opines the “internal relevance” of the research …

Maybe you think that it is sufficient that our research be relevant to scientists, both within our field and in related disciplines.

This is a more internal dimension of relevance. I must disillusion you of this as well, because our internal relevance is not very good either.

Very few of our articles are very well-cited, receiving 10 or more citations per year.

The vast majority of the articles, 70 percent or so, hardly get cited, receiving three citations or less in a given year.

In other words, 70 percent of the articles that we publish in  … don’t have any meaningful impact internal to our specialty.

Other indicators of internal relevance converge in this sobering self-assessment.

A few years ago, the Policy Board of our major journal conducted a series of surveys among its subscribers.

On average, journal subscribers reported having read only 15 percent of the articles, the other 85 percent had not been read.

And, the 15% readership number is, if anything, probably inflated.

The bottom line is that the vast majority of the research that we produce, may be 70 percent or more has no significant scientific impact and isn’t found interesting even by us.

For Prof. Tuan Pham’s tips re: how to improve research relevancy see The Seven Sins

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