The Scientific Foundation for Ergonomics
I expressed some concerns with an observational study that we reviewed this week for The Ergonomics Report, Ergoweb’s subscription based publication. The methods and results of the study, as presented in a peer reviewed journal article, were confusing, and left us questioning how the research was conducted, which in turn reduced our ability to glean applicable knowledge from the work.
The method and quality of scientific research is key to our ability to understand the world around us, let alone our ability to influence it. This applies to all research endevors, not just those in ergonomics. Digital communications have created a flood of information sharing, and scientific information is a large part of that flood. But how "good" is the science we hear about, and how well are we equiped to distinguish the good from the bad?
For example, what’s the difference between a randomized and an observational study, and why should we care? The short answer is that observational studies are fraught with potential problems, and, unfortunately, many studies — even the majority of studies in particular disciplines like medicine — are observational. I saw this topic appear in a few publications recently, and found this story, "Seeking Answers In A Maze Of Health Studies," that contains both a transcript and an audio recording of a National Public Radio interview that does a good job clarifying this important question.
INTERVIEWER GUY RAZ: So I guess the idea is if you have enough, you know, information about people’s lifestyles and the choices they make, and then you combine that with the power of computers to run thousands of tests, you’re bound to find some odd correlations.
Dr. YOUNG: Indeed you will. You’ll find all kinds of things and then it’s a matter of how clever you are at writing. If you can put a good story around the probably random finding that you found, you got a paper.
RAZ: On this program and, as you know, many other news programs, journalists go to scientists researchers who have published peer review studies in these prestigious medical journals. We trust them. Should we then just disregard these studies?
Dr. YOUNG: Well, there are really two kinds of studies and they’re often sort of mashed together and they shouldn’t be. In a randomized clinical trial, there’s one question, you collect the data, there’s no bias, you get a clean answer. Observational studies are a different kettle of fish. You can ask hundreds of questions, there can be bias and other problems. And then you can pick and choose amongst all the data, what you want to report in a paper.
The point I’m trying to make with my research is that there are systemic problems with observational studies.
Driving pregnant a pain in … well, everything
So says the headline of an article appearing in the Chicago Tribune. Journalist Jim Mateja shares his experience with the "Third Age Suit" and the "Empathy Belly", suits that Ford engineers use to explore the experiences of older drivers and pregnant drivers, respectively.
The assignment, the boss insisted, was simple:
Undergo an "ergonomics awakening." Translated?
Anything to get out of the office. So off we set to Northwestern University, where Fred Lupton, Ford ergonomics engineer, was spending the day sharing his knowledge with budding engineers.
Ford’s ergonomics engineers must ensure that features and systems on new vehicles are easy to use.
More on Driver Distraction
I don’t know whether the average person would make the connection between ergonomics / human factors and the growing body of research that deals with driver distractions, but this is a topic that has put some of our researchers on the map. David Strayer, a University of Utah professor, is one of them, and he’s now being prominently featured as a blogger on the Car Talk web site (you’ll also find many articles interviewing or referencing Strayer here at ergoweb.com). Car Talk, hosted by "Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers" (brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi), is a popular weekly radio show dealing with … cars, of course. They’ve dedicated an entire section of their site to driver distration. Strayer’s latest entry (as of April 7, 2010), begins with:
So just how many crashes are caused by drivers using a cell phone? This turns out to be a more difficult question to answer than you might think …
The National Safety Council has also developed a special section on their web site dedicated to Distracted Driving. The site contains some great materials, including guidance for employer policies, research, applicable laws, educational materials, white papers, and much more. If you need to keep abreast of Driver Distraction issues, I highly suggest you
The truth about body sizes – ISO compiles "people measurements" from around the world
According to this article, appearing in The FINANCIAL (finchannel.com), ISO is releasing a report that compiles anthropometry data for global populations. I haven’t seen this yet, but am anxious to, because good, up-to-date anthropometry is rather hard to come by.
With changing standards of living, the body dimensions of people have been increasing in many countries over the last few decades. To ensure that clothing, workplaces, transportation, homes and recreational activities match today’s body sizes comfortably and safely, ISO has published a report compiling up-to-date anthropometric data (human body measurements across populations).
The report, ISO/TR 7250-2:2010, Basic human body measurements for technological design – Part 2: Statistical summaries of body measurements from individual ISO populations, is the second part of a series on body measurements.