The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 1 – Of Disclosures and Data

As if to prove that “the best-laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley,” one of the Dudes has had to cancel his trip to the ATIA conference here in Orlando, along with his presentation on eye gaze evaluation and implementation for children. Fortunately we’ll be able to make the notes available in a few days time, so check back or follow us on Twitter as @speechdudes.

The other Dudes – which would be me – is therefore left with the task of making sure folks get their dose of comments and observations inspired by the conference [1].

And these start with as a result of watching Jeff Smizek, the President and CEO of United Airlines, at the beginning of the flight to Orlando International. YOU may have to swipe your credit card to watch TV shows and movies on the tiny screen at the back of the chairs of a United Airlines Boeing 737-800, but Jeff Smizek’s little promo pieces are always free. In the latest, he enthuses over the new “control center” for the company based on one floor of the Willis Tower, former called the Sears Tower, in Chicago. From here, he extols, all of United’s operations are controlled and monitored in a state-of-the-art facility.

Boeing 737-800

Boeing 737-800

So Jeff, if something were to happen to the Willis Tower facility, wouldn’t that be a “bad thing?” And wasn’t the last time the words “Willis” and “Tower” seen together in the movie Die Hard when Bruce Willis battled against terrorists who took over the Nakatomi Tower? Do you really want to announce to anyone who flies United anywhere in the world the address of the entire company’s nerve center? Call me paranoid, but couldn’t the marketing department find something else to promote – like plane safety, passenger-centric improvements, or a short piece on how airline food is made? Just sayin’, Jeff.

During flights, I take the opportunity to catch up on reading materials that have been piling up over the weeks, which on this trip included the latest copy of Bloomberg Businessweek. What caught my eye was an article on the growth in the Dubai economy. Now I know you’re thinking –  “But Dude, what has this to do with Speech Pathology or Special Education?” Bear with me.

Consider the following paragraph taken from the article;

Rewa Zeinati, a freelance writer in Dubai, has noticed more business cards with photos of scantily clad women offering massages piling up on her car windscreen lately. “Sometimes I’m away for 30 minutes and come back to find a stack of them, ” says Zeinati. “I’ve definitely seen an increase this year.”

For those wanting to learn about experimental design, what we have here is a rather memorable example of the research dynamic duo of validity and reliability. You see, whenever you measure something (length, temperature, density, hair color, foot odor, number of toes etc., the two big questions you typically want answered are whether the test you apply actually measures what it is you are supposed to be measuring, and are these measures accurate.

Take, for example, the masochistic morning activity in which many of us indulge; checking our weight on the bathroom scales. Of late, the numbers I’ve been seeing having demonstrated – how shall I put it? – an “ascendant tendency.” My wife, on the other hand, would say, “You’re getting fat.”

My hope may be that there is a problem with the scales. Unfortunately, they seem to be reliable because they are consistent. By that I mean if I step off the scales and then back on, if they still show me at 170 lbs, they are consistent i.e. reliable. And if they appear to show my weight increasing slowly over time, and don’t suddenly drop to 130 lbs one day and up to 250 lbs on another, that’s more evidence of the reliability.

Bag of flour

Bag of flour

The next line of defense is to argue that the scales are mis-calibrated and are adding an extra 20 lbs to my “real” weight. They are, in fact, lacking in validity – they are not really measuring what they are supposed to be measuring. My wife then grabs two bags of flour from the kitchen, each weighing 5 lbs, and drops them on the scales. The first one shows up as 5 lbs, the second as 10 lbs. She then has me stand on the scales holding the flour and tragically the scales show 180 lbs. Validity confirmed, I walk off in a huff and sign up for a WeightWatchers class [2].

In the case of the Dubai economy, the first assumption of validity is that massage services are dependent on how much money is sloshing around in the economy, and that if folks have more disposable income, they spend more on executive relief. So if there are more cards appearing offering such services, this is an indicator that the economy is on the rise [3].  On the other hand, we might want to argue the reverse; that as an economy declines, people seek temporary relief from the misery of privation by seeking solace in the company of a masseuse, so more cards equals shrinking economy. Readers of the classic Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy may recognize this as a variation on “Shoe Event Horizon” theory.

So it may be that the underlying assumption of the argument from the Businessweek article fails the validity test.

The other assumption is that the measuring rod – the number of cards on a windshield – is not accurate. Does each card measure X amount of “positive economy” or does the number of cards just fluctuate randomly over time? Without more longitudinal data – and looking at more cars than just Ms. Zeinati’s would also be critical.

So the card counting method may turn out to fail the validity test.

The Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning has a simple, readable overview of validity and reliability as part of an on-line  tutorial about measurement in the social sciences, so it’s worth taking a look.

Signing in for the conference was a piece of cake. In fact, it was possibly the easiest sign in I’ve had for a while. A couple of days prior to arriving, ATIA sent me a confirmation email that included a bar code. All I needed to do was walk up to the desk at the conference hall, open the email on my smartphone, and wave the bar code at a sensor. My badge was automatically printed out and the only human element needed was for a person to put the paper with my name on it into a plastic holder. The day cannot be far off when even that job will be replace by having me fold my own paper and drop it into a holder I pluck out of a large box.

Registration barcode

Registration barcode

Dinner was at the Tropicale restaurant, one of the Caribe Royale’s on-site venues that I’ve eaten at many times, and I enjoyed a most excellent fire-roasted vegetable risotto served with chicken, asparagus tips, tomato fondue, and shaved Asiago. Delish! By the time dinner was over and beer had been consumed, my 5:00 am start ensured I was asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow.

[1] As we’ve mentioned before, our posts during conferences are not intended to be a comprehensive review of what’s happening but a series of reflections on what our conference experiences bring to mind. Rather than take 1000 words to outline the features and functions of an iPad app, we’re more likely to riff on the name of the app or mercilessly skewer one tiny aspect. If we say that H.L. Mencken is a role model, you’ll catch our drift.

[2] Astute – or anal – readers may want to raise the objection that we’re now making an assumption about the validity of using the bags of flour as a reference point. What if the makers of the flour have been unscrupulously shorting the contents by 0.2 lbs? Duly noted. It’s a fundamental issue in all measurement that whatever standards we use have to be valid – or assumed to be valid.

[3] I was tempted to use the phrase “…the economy and male anatomy are on the rise,” which is not only puerile play on the word rise but an example of something called syllepsis – a form of sentence where two or more parts of a sentence are yoked together by a common verb or noun, more often than not for humorous effect. Dorothy Parker allegedly once said, “It’s a small apartment. I’ve barely enough room to lay my hat and a few friends.” The sylleptic aspect comes from the dual meaning of the verb “to lay” and this type of humorous device is often called a pun – all be it a special version of a pun.

One response to “The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 1 – Of Disclosures and Data

  1. Pingback: The Dudes Do ATIA 2013: Day 2 – Of Schedules, Starbucks, and Support | The Speech Dudes

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