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Stay in School (And Out of the Maternity Ward)

She also discovered that pricey pants were consistently cut fuller, allowing them to fit a larger woman than similarly sized but less expensive offerings. That's strong evidence, she suggested, that clothing manufacturers engage in what she called "vanity sizing": making the pants bigger to get size-conscious women to pay extra for the little white lie on the label.

A Rude Finding

Well, maybe it's not so important after all to be polite if your job is to provide help over the phone. Instead, what's important is, well, actually providing help.

_____Unconventional Wisdom_____
Dramatic Influences (The Washington Post, Oct 24, 2004)
Voters: Take a Chill Pill (The Washington Post, Oct 10, 2004)
The Politics of Terrorism Warnings (Or, Who's Afraid of Orange Alerts?) (The Washington Post, Sep 5, 2004)
Previous Columns
E-mail Rich Morin at morinr@washpost.com.

At least that's what one researcher found who studied what effect rudeness had on people who called a bank service center for assistance.

Lorna Doucet of the University of Illinois's College of Business recorded 142 calls and examined them for evidence of hostility or rudeness (most had at least one hostile moment, either on the part of the caller, the service provider or both). Then she tracked down and interviewed the customers within two days of the call and asked various questions, including whether they viewed the person who helped them as particularly rude or hostile.

She found that callers weren't particularly bothered by a discourteous representative as long as the bank employee answered their questions. But customers became hostile in response to rudeness if they weren't getting the help they wanted, particularly those callers who said they considered good service to be important, Doucet reported in the latest issue of the Academy of Management Journal.

"I was hoping to find customers less tolerant of rudeness," Doucet said in a statement released with the study. "But they turn out to be quite pragmatic."

Corrections (Mine and Others)

Once in a great while, a wee error intrudes into the musings of your Unconventional Wiz. In his Nov. 14 column, the Wiz wrote that researchers studying the declining life expectancy of Russians after 1989 "estimated that increases in levels of despair explained about 25 percent of the drop in mortality during the 1989-1994 period." It should have read a "drop in life expectancy" or "increase in mortality."

Your Wiz and his usually eagle-eyed editors were appropriately chagrined when alert readers called the error to our attention. Happily for us, my blunder probably will not go down as the most ghastly statistical gaffe of 2004.

One strong contender for that honor is the Economist magazine, which published a chart in its May 15 edition that purported to show the average IQs of states voting for George Bush and Al Gore in 2000.

According to the chart, nine of the 10 states with the highest average IQs went for Gore; the bottom 10 all went for Bush. "So Democrats are really smarter," read the smirky headline in the London-based publication.

One problem: The data were fake. A similar chart with exactly the same data had been circulating on the Internet for more than a year, where it had been exposed as a malicious joke.

"Alas, we were the victim of a hoax: no such data exists," the Economist editors acknowledged on May 20. (Even now, the sham data is posted as real on some Web sites favored by those dismayed by the results of the Nov. 2 election.)

But the Economist may finish narrowly behind the St. Petersburg Times. The luckless Florida newspaper -- citing the Economist's report -- printed the bogus data as fact in an editorial published on the same day the Economist's correction appeared.


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