Here’s a short short story about research science integrity and fun – first printed in Musea.
Two research scientists waited in the outer office of an executive of the Lemy Lime Company. Instead of white lab coats. They were wearing blue suits and brown ties. One held a Manila envelope on his lap. They looked to the receptionist who called them forward, nervous, fidgety.
“Mr. Cadwalleter will see you now.”
A tall stout man with a ruddy round face and carefully combed back hair, rose up from his desk, reached across, and greeted them, with a hard handshake, “Bill Cadwalleter.”
“Mr. Cadwalleter, I’m Todd Anderson and this is my associate Doug Feinstein.”
“Todd, Doug, glad to meet you. Sit down.” The two took chairs and waited. “So boys what have you got for me?”
Todd: “Mr. Cadwalleter as you know we are from the Quick Chem Testing Laboratory and we uh brought the results for the experiment that Lemy Lime authorized us to do.”
“OK… May I see it?” Todd gingerly handed over the report.
Doug: “Were you told about the experiment?”
“I was briefed,” said Cadwalleter as he centered the report on his desk and glanced through the first couple of pages. The room was silent except for the clicking of the crisp stiff papers: surveys, charts, graphs, etc. “Now in English, what does all this mean?”
Todd: “Doug do you want to answer that?”
Doug: “Well sir, we as requested, did an experiment to determine if Lemy Lime Drink with its 12% real lime juice could help in preventing colds.”
Todd: “Yes, uh, we had 3 groups of people, or subjects as we say. The first group had the Lemy Lime Drink regularly…”
“Twice a day,” added Doug.
“The second group had sugar water with a green dye in it, and the third group wasn’t given any thing at all.”
Doug: “We also made sure, and this is of the utmost importance to the accuracy of the experiment, that none of the people in any of the groups knew what they were drinking. We simply said that we were doing an experiment about colds, having colds, and so forth. Then after 3 months we collected our data and ran it through our computer. The results are as you can see.”
Mr. Cadwalleter switched his head back to Todd. “Well, Todd, let’s cut to what’s vital to Lemy Lime. How did we do?”
Todd: “The results were surprising. 63% of those who drank the Lemy Lime Drink had fewer or no colds…”
“63%!” Mr. Cadwalleter exclaimed, annunciating each syllable.
Todd: “Yes sir!”
“Well that’s what I like to hear.” Cadwalleter leaned back in his brass-studded chair. “I know I speak on behalf of all the company when I say I appreciate the work of Quick Chem, and you can be sure that we’ll use you in the future. Now for your payment.” He reached in his desk for a signed voucher. “Take this to our accounting department. Mrs. Sugarman at the front desk will give you directions and they’ll take care of the money. It was $6,500 on balance, correct?” Mr. Cadwalleter handed the slip to Todd, and stood up.
Todd: “Yes sir…”
“Is there something I’ve forgot?”
Todd: “No sir, it’s just that we uh…”
Doug: “Well what Mr. Anderson is trying to say is that there were other results that were surprising too.”
“Like what?” said Cadwalleter, somewhat menacingly.
Todd: “Well it’s true that 63% of the Lemy Lime drinkers got fewer or no colds, but it’s also true that 59% of those who drank the green sugar water got fewer or no colds.”
“What? You mean those people just drank green water and it cured their colds?”
Doug: “Fevers too!”
Cadwalleter switched his attention back to Todd and sat back down. “Mr. Anderson, are you sure about this?”
Todd: “Yes sir, we checked, checked, and double, double checked.”
“59%, 59%, 59%” muttered Mr. Cadwalleter.
“59.3%” whispered Doug.
“Well,” Cadwalleter mused, “59% – that’s less, right?”
Doug: “Yes sir but you see it’s not much.”
Todd: “No sir it’s not. And we have an error factor of 4%.”
Cadwalleter: “Now, now, let us worry about that… You think we’re going to LIE to people in our ads?”
“No sir.” said Doug and Todd, crisply.
Cadwalleter: “We’ll tell the truth. And the truth is 63% had fewer or no colds, the majority had fewer colds. You said so, and that’s the truth isn’t it? Isn’t that the truth Mr. Feinstein?’
Doug: “Yes sir but it’s only part of the truth.”
Cadwalleter: “But boys, that’s not very favorable for our product. And what we both want is to sell a lot of Lemy Lime.”
Todd: “Well as a new testing agency we feel we must be perceived as being as scientifically accurate as possible. And if you mentioned our testing company in your ads that could, of course, compromise our integrity…”
“This is blackmail!” blurted Cadwalleter. “This is an outrage!” Down went both fists onto the top of the desk. “You want us to pay you thousands of dollars and then you tell us we can’t use the results?” Todd and Doug both cowed somewhat. “No sir. No sir. Not at all. It’s just that if the ad should say only that 63%…”
“Now you want to write our copy for us! Gentlemen, your part is done. We’ll take it from here. Good day!” Todd and Doug looked at each other. “Good Day!!!,” and Cadwalleter left the room. Two days later in the conference room, Cadwalleter was breaking the news somewhat sheepishly to the CEO of Lemy Lime. “Mr. Martin…They acted, Mr. Martin, as if they were lawyers or something.”
Mr. Martin replied, “Well that’s a laugh! 59% better with green water. We’re in the wrong business, Bill. We should be selling snake oil.”
Cadwalleter: “Sir I was thinking we could salvage the operation if we …”
“Salvage it? Scrap it! Throw it out! We came up to bat and we struck out. If we went ahead with this AND the truth came out during the ad campaign, we’d be the laughing stock of the industry. Scrap it! … So, Bill, how’s that boy of yours? Growing like a wild weed, huh?” Mr. Martin slapped Bill on the back.
“Yes sir,” said Mr. Cadwalleter as he closed the cover on the report.