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Spare us from pointless research!

Dear Friend,

“If you want to get the right answer, pay a researcher to go and get it for you” is a truism in business as well as politics, and a glance at today’s Daily Telegraph newspaper provides a magnificent example of expensive research adding no particular value.

Under the banner “Living in an ugly area makes you obese”, the paper reports on a UK Medical Research Council study that has looked at the incidence of clinical obesity depending on where you live. Sure enough, the study found that poorer areas contained more obese people.

But surely to anyone with half an ounce of common sense, the result would be a foregone conclusion?

Not wishing to state the obvious, poorer people have less money and have to eat poorly as a consequence. They are also less well educated about the benefits of a balanced diet than their muesli-chomping, organic vegetable-crunching middle class counterparts. This is not their fault, but simply the way life is.

Poorer people also tend to have less free time to go down to the gym, and probably don’t usually have enough money to pay the fees — and anyway, there are hardly any gyms in poorer areas!

And if I were poor and had few prospects, why would I worry needlessly about whether I put on a few extra pounds by eating the cheap and plentiful fatty comfort foods that I love, but are seemingly so despised by those higher up the social scale?

The point here is that there is no conclusion to be drawn, but researchers have decided to find one anyway. The conclusion might just as well be that being obese makes you live in a poorer area, or that rich people eat less.

So what’s the reinsurance angle to all of this?

It’s simple — those who put too much faith in underwriting models beware — do study the data by all means, but always be extremely careful when it comes to drawing meaningful conclusions!

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