Operations research was declared dead in 1979

When I was a PhD student in the early 2000s, my advisor, Sheldon Jacobson, told me that some had once predicted the death of operations research. This came as a surprise to me, because it seemed like the discipline was flourishing. He agreed with me and named a few reasons why he thought operations research overcame its early growing pains. He noted the increase in data availability and how the discipline had embraced new applications like homeland security and healthcare systems.

Recently, I finally looked into the claim that operations research was dying. I was surprised to learn that Sheldon wasn’t exaggerating: operations research was put on life support in 1978 and was declared dead in 1979! Here are the two papers I found.

1978 paper that put OR/MS on life support:

Hall Jr, J. R., & Hess, S. W. (1978). OR/MS: Dead or dying? RX for survival. Interfaces8(3), 42-44. https://doi.org/10.1287/inte.8.3.42

1979 paper that declared operations research to be dead:

Ackoff, R. L. (1979). The future of operational research is past. Journal of the operational research society30(2), 93-104. https://doi.org/10.1057/jors.1979.22. A companion paper outlines the roadmap for resurrecting operations research.

“Operations Research is dead even though it has yet to be buried. I also think there is little chance for its resurrection because there is so little understanding of the reasons for its demise.”

Russell L. Ackhoff, 1979

These two papers, plus several others, reflect a discussion that the OR/MS community had early in its life as a discipline. After reading these papers, it because clear that operations research has always been driven to solve real problems in advancing knowledge base, and the interaction between academics and practitioners has been instrumental in making both applied and theoretical advances. This is just one of many observations one could make from reading the papers.

I briefly discussed these papers in my 2021 Omega Rho keynote at the INFORMS Annual Meeting, noting how vibrant out community has become over the years. For example, the 2019 INFORMS Annual Meeting set the highest attendance of an INFORMS conference ever. I’m obviously enthusiastic about operations research and its future given that I’ve blogged about operations research for fifteen years. I’m curious about what readers of this blog think.

Why do you think operations research has survived and thrived?

For further reading:


2 responses to “Operations research was declared dead in 1979

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