Will drinking Red Bull and smoking cigars boost our productivity at work?
Will sleep deprivation increase the number of mistakes we make?
This post addresses these questions, as well as how math-myopia affects love for metrics and statistics about sports, dieting, work injuries and so forth.
If you read German, check out our series on political campaigning and the usefulness of polling (US presidential election).
Unfortunately, in a culture where Prince Harry can publicly state that he may not have the math skills to be an air ambulance helicopter pilot, he is likely to ignore the base rate…
The base rate is a good way to start if we want to forecast something or put test results in perspective (see Tables 2 and 3 below).
Below we illustrate this a bit more with an example based on a May 2015 Financial Times article, which nicely illustrates how things can be misconstrued by journalists.
To reduce this risk, we must go to the trouble and check the numbers.
Great headline. Unfortunately, the FT journalist fails to refer us readers to the original study from which she got these numbers.
I left a comment, asking author and Employment Correspondent Sarah O’Connor for help.
My comment (see above image) did not get published, nor did I get an answer from the journalist regarding my query.
So as a paying subscriber, should I trust these claims? Might it be wiser to go and check?
You guessed, I continued digging myself. An interesting journey that took me 28 minutes…
I found an article from the Daily Mail (see image below).
But it referred to an earlier article by Mail staff referring to a study by Uppsala University (Sweden) researchers.
References? None whatsoever!
So where did the Financial Times’ (FT) journalist find the information if not from the Daily Mail?
The Huffington Post managed a link to the FT article from which it had copied. In other words, to avoid copyright infringement the journalist had done a fast re-write. The content was the same as in the FT article using different wording.
So the Huffington Post failed to add substance to what was posted in the FT. What now?
You might suggest as a good next step to go and check whether the sponsor of a study might offer the full report. That is what we did.
Unfortunately, the sponsor’s website did not make it easy – it failed basic usability requirements. After some digging we found something, but it did not link to the original or complete report either.
You got that right, the sponsor did not provide the full report. Just a bit of information and nothing more. Real bummer.
Maybe a search with different keywords could help? Read on and find out. Incidentally, why not subscribe to this blog’s newsletter right now?
A short description is offered and at the bottom a link to the report. Another page opens with another description about the study. Eureka – I can finally download the report.
The report itself is very interesting. On page 11 it introduces the reader to the concept of abseenteeism and presenteeism.
– Absenteeism refers to the measure of days absent from work
– Presenteeism refers to the measure of reduced productivity while at work (e.g., due to headache, flu, etc.).
On page 12, it goes on to say, “The instrument consists of six questions with a recall time frame of seven days. The questions ask whether the respondent is employed; the number of hours missed from work; the number of hours actually worked; and the degree to which the respondent feels that a health problem has affected productivity while at work and affected their ability to do daily activities other than work. WPAI-GH outcomes are expressed as impairment percentages, where higher percentages indicate greater impairment and lower productivity. We use the following three work-related impairment percentages calculated on the basis of the WPAI-GH scale
– Per cent work time missed due to ill-health (absenteeism),
– Per cent impairment while working due to ill-health (presenteeism),
– Per cent overall work impairment due to ill-health (absenteeism and presenteeism).”
Hafner, Marco; van Stolk, Christian; Saunders, Catherine, L; Krapels, Jochim; Baruch, Ben (May 22, 2015). Health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace. A Britain’s Healthiest Company summary report. Retrieved, May 31, 2015 from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1000/RR1084/RAND_RR1084.pdf
What is the problem with the Rand study?
The survey depends on how well subjects recollect facts from last week. But do seven days in a person’s year accurately reflect the status of their health? Additionally, does it make a difference if we collected these data in July, October, December or February of the year we studied?
Finally, large companies are over-represented in this sample. Moreover, companies with under 50 employees – over 70 percent of British firms – could not participate.
So is this a great study? It is very interesting, but the journalists’ interpretation of these data far exceeds what the authors infer from their own data.
By the way, there is research that is far better suited than the above to learning how sleep deprivation can affect job performance or studying math.
Uppsala University to the rescue
Olga E. Titova, et al., (2014) Associations of self-reported sleep disturbance and duration with academic failure in community-dwelling Swedish adolescents. Sleep Medicine doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2014.09.004 Retrieved May 31, 2015 from http://www.researchgate.net/…… (click on citation to get study link since it is too long to post here).
The study included 20,000 adolescents aged 12 to 19. This longitudinal study was conducted from 2005 to 2011. About 30 percent of participants reported regular sleep problems.
The study found that if you have less than seven hours of sleep, data indicate an increased risk of failure in school.
The group also found in a previous study that going without a night of sleep increased toxic substances in the brain. Possible increased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis was reported. Other prior research shows how the brain uses sleep to cleanse itself.
2015-07-20 – One night of sleep loss can alter clock genes in your tissues
2015-07-13 – Sleep loss makes memories less accessible in stressful situations
Three studies show that teens should decrease screen time before going to bed
Bottom line: Show me the data…
If you read an article like the one for this post, better check the number to see if the headline by the journalist can be justified from the study’s results. Very likely it cannot, so putting decreasing amounts into content seems to only viable strategy left.
And to answer our question in the title: No study shows drinking #RedBull boosts job performance.
However, it does increase your daily sugar intake significantly, which is probably not a good thing.
Join the conversation
- Do you have an example of how mathematics phobia is affecting basic mastery of mathematics skills?
- Do you have a good example of a sponsored study that addresses some of the issues outlined here?
- How do you make good guesses about things that affect your decision-making (i.e. invest my money here or there…)?
Of course, I will answer you in the comments. Guaranteed.
Can we trust these numbers?
Interesting reads point out that trust is learned more than inherited. Trust is socially received and transmitted.