Research World (September 2006)
Projections about future developments, delivering expectations, indicating trends and making predictions, are activities that do attract attention. And of course, carefully formed opinions about what will happen in the future are indispensable to the planning process. But just how reliable are these forecasts? It seems that predicting the future has become a business in itself - with huge financial interests - in which mostly self-appointed gurus and trend watchers have developed a lucrative trade in prognoses and prophecies. Are they really any different from the seers and clairvoyants that through the ages provided decision makers with their visions? Not to forget the multitude of voodoo polls, on-line political polls and analyses by the media that often go just skin deep. Predicting is fine - but ultimately it is not just about making predictions about the future. Timing is also crucial: to what particular point in time do the estimates relate and just how accurate are they? Best guesses might be welcome, but are not always sufficient. Much more preferable are systematic, independent and rigorous approaches on a continual basis - at least then the contribution of research can be more solid. Not that the aspiration is for research to bring universal happiness, but standards of professionalism should be respected. We have been looking ahead in Research World since the beginning of this year. In this issue we will explore the predictive quality of research from different angles. To avoid the myopia of the chronic emphasis on the short term, we will focus on long term developments and changes in areas that affect us all, such as the biomedical world and technology. We will focus on scenario planning and look at trends and hypes. We will try in particular to get a picture of the role of research. Can research help companies to pleasantly surprise consumers? Or make existing products obsolete, as people have said so insistently in the past? What can modern research do? Can it deliver photos, snapshots or reliable forecasts?
- This could also be of interest