Why I am a skeptic when it comes to research

Why I am a skeptic when it comes to research (continued): Inc.com has a story reporting a new study that shows “Southern states are falling short when it comes to education and entrepreneurship” in which the folks behind the research claim the region “has not held its own economically since about 1980.” While I probably agree with the actual thrust of the study — that policy makers in Southern states need to focus more on encouraging the adaptation of technology and on improving training and educational opportunities — I’m not quite following the methodology of the research that shows it can reveal that the region “has not held its own economically” for the past 26 years.

Since the group putting out this research is led by governors and high profile individuals in the region, I’m confused by their spin on the findings. How, exactly, does it reveal the South has not held its own economically in the past 26 years? Compared to where? Is this suggesting the economies of other regions have grown more rapidly than the economies of southern states during the past 26 years? That claim would be near impossible to prove for two reasons: 1. The economies of most southern states have grown rather significantly during that period; 2. The baseline of those states’ economic growth rates were lower 26 years ago when compared to other regions — thus, any growth would “compare” (and I think that’s what the phrase “holding its own” means) favorably with other regions. Also, I’d like to see the data showing fewer companies are started in the South than in other regions. Do they mean technology companies? I can believe that, however, when you consider Northern Virginia, Atlanta and Austin are in “the South,” I can think of a few tech startups of the past 26 years that haven’t been left behind. However, and perhaps I’m living in the bubble of Nashville where a health-care company is being started under every rock, but “falling behind” in entrepreneurship is not one of the most pressing Southern problems I fear.

Actually, I’m more concerned with managing the growth we’re experiencing than with a concern that other regions are growing faster. And, frankly, I think if you were to parse (and spin) this research in a different way, it would reveal the same thing.