I am teaching a course on Public Sector Operations Research this semester. I included this quote from a paper by Rittel and Webber about optimism in my introductory lecture.
“Planning and the emerging policy sciences are among the more optimistic of those professions. Their representatives refuse to believe that planning for betterment is impossible, however grave their misgivings about the appropriateness of past and present modes of planning. They have not abandoned the hope that the instruments of perfectability can be perfected.”
Horst W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber, “Dilemmas in a general theory of planning,” Policy Sciences 4, 1973.
Operations research is one part planning: we build math models to inform decisions. We do this because we believe we can make a difference. And we believe we can make a difference because we are inherently optimistic.
Do you agree that operations research is optimistic?
January 27th, 2016 at 8:25 am
I do believe that operations research is optimistic. What is your software of choice when applying OR in the real world
January 27th, 2016 at 8:36 am
I agree OR is optimistic. what is your software of choice when applying OR to the real world
January 27th, 2016 at 8:55 am
Isn’t OR supposed to be analytic? That is, neither optimistic or pessimistic.
January 27th, 2016 at 9:01 am
How could you do optimal control without being optimistic?
January 27th, 2016 at 9:29 am
For me, it depends on the specific area within OR. If you are considering the worst case scenarios you must be pessimistic, as in some game theoretic problems. However there are numerous other areas in OR that you should be optimistic.
February 1st, 2016 at 7:49 am
I taught a statistics course last semester where one of the questions turned into a character study. What I told them in the post-exam review was that engineering was not cynical, that our profession was one of problem solving, and to do that, we need to believe that we could find a solution to the problem (however imperfect). I don’t know if that is optimism (you could do this believing that the problems are neverending or that you are choosing between undesirable outcomes) but I think there is a limit on how cynical you can be when you do this.
February 1st, 2016 at 9:40 am
That sounds a lot like Herbert Simon’s notion of “satisficing”.