In his Survey Geek blog Reg Baker bemoans the rise of storytelling at conferences, and the decline of rigour and evidence. However, I beg to differ with Reg. The problem (IMHO) is not the presence of storytelling, nor even a disassociation from the facts. The weakness is created by the absence of dissent and contested debate.
The process of dialectics, where opposing points of view are put forwarded and argued for in debate is great way of seeking clarity and understanding – especially if people stick to a few basic rules, such as evidence trumping opinion and avoiding such devices as men of straw.
When market research only had a few conferences, everybody who had the resources and the motivation went to these events, organised by the likes of ESOMAR, CASRO, MRS etc. At most of these events there was a variety of views, from the curmudgeon and the luddite to the innovator and the dedicated seeker of fashion.
Now we have specialist media, specialist channels, and specialist conferences. At a conference on neuromarketing, or behavioural economics, or mobile research, the people most likely to attend are the faithful, and perhaps the gullible, and the dialectics don’t take place. These specialist channels and events lead to more information, but perhaps at the costs of rigour?
I think that what we need are more contrary people at these events. Indeed there may be a future in hiring curmudgeons to attend events to play the role of shouting out when the emperor has no clothes (or in modern parlance when the guru’s clothes are virtual). Perhaps Reg and I should consider a new career as evidence-based naysayers? (for hire!)