Cowboys and Professors

Message from the President,
Frank M. Bass OR/MS Today,
September 1978

When I was a young man, I had a choice to make. I could have been a cowboy or I could have been a professor. For the cowboy, the truth is simple and direct and, unlike the professor, he will know with little ambiguity whether he has succeeded or failed. I now realize that I was guided by what has come to be called a multiple criteria objective function. I valued the direct honesty of the cowboy, intelligence in my associates, and money. Not only do cowboys dominate on the honesty dimension, but they are, perhaps, slightly more intelligent than professors. Alas, however, professors make a lot more money than cowboys. Hence, I became a professor. The choice however, has not always been without regret. As President of TIMS, I hope that the cowboy's truth will prevail so that you will know clearly whether success or failure characterizes the pursuit of objectives.

At the TIMS/ORSA meeting in New York last May, some rude person asked me what I hoped to accomplish - what my objectives would be - as President of TIMS. It was at that moment that I came to understand viscerally that this event scheduled for a future date, like others in previous experience, would move inexorably towards its rendezvous with the calendar. I confess now that the thought did cross my mind fleetingly that my objective would be to have the honor of being a Past President of TIMS having put forth only that amount of effort required to prevent or forestall disaster to the organization during my tenure. Upon reflection, however, I have concluded that a somewhat bolder objective would be closer to that which would derive from the utility functions of TIMS members and from my own.

The principal objective I propose for TIMS during my term as President is the rejuvenation or revitalization of management science / operations research. No new area of science is created instantly. Time is required for a new area to develop its own culture, to make mistakes, and to mature. ORSA and TIMS are now more than a quarter of a century old. Management science has passed through a naive stage in its maturation. Although there has been great success and substantial impact in the adoption of certain management science methodologies such as linear programming, there has also been disillusionment following the failure to understand the difficulty of some problems, especially important ones. Nevertheless, complexities of important problems are now more readily recognized by experienced management scientists. Thus, the rejuvenation we seek is one which rests not only upon the exciting realization of the potential power of our science, but also upon its limitations.

If there was ever a time when the concept of rationality in affairs was needed, this is it. Reason and rationality are sometimes defeated by improbable outcomes and unexpected environmental shifts. But, for the most part, who does not have faith that reason and rationality triumph over doctrinaire prejudice and ignorant altruism? But how are reason and rationality to prevail if they are not heard? A rejuvenation of management science / operations research will require, among other things, an increased awareness of its power and of its accomplishments. If the basic objective I have set forth is to be accomplished, the following proposition must come to be more widely believed than is now the case: Management science is science and it works.

Among the methods to be used in the pursuit of the basic objective are: (1) increased publicity of our activities and accomplishments, (2) the establishment of a forum through which qualified management scientists may present their findings in areas which bear on public policy, the management of public institutions, or are of general interest and importance to management of private institutions, (3) a membership drive which will not only bring in new members, but broaden the base of interest areas and (4) recognition of our science as science by the National Science Foundation and the creation of a section within the N.S.F. devoted to the support of research in management science. Steps have already been taken in conjunction with ORSA and the American Institute Decision Sciences (AIDS) in presenting the intellectual argument supporting this last point to officials of the N.S.F. 

I believe that at the end of the year you will know whether I have failed or succeeded. In accomplishing the rejuvenation of management science, I want us to learn why in the management of business institutions, government, and universities it is necessary for all time to settle for less than the best, as we now do. If we conclude that it is necessary, then I will have failed.