Diner Beware: Building the Capacity to Assess Design and Interpretation in a Study of Studies

Presented by:

Azka Javaid & Nicholas J. Horton, Amherst College


The world is awash in data that can be used to address important issues and help make better decisions. The increased availability of information in all fields has made it ever more important for citizens to be able to make sense of these data without relying solely on experts. One of the goals of the introductory statistics course is to develop the skills to be able to make sense of research findings in published papers. In this activity, students read a one page summary of twelve research papers related to restaurants and dining (Atlantic Monthly "Study of Studies: Diner Beware" by Bourree Lam). The papers analyze topics such as how restaurants manipulate seating arrangement, server posture, plate’s color and size, and music to attract more customers and revenue. The students are then assigned one of the papers to read and critique as part of one of twelve small groups. These critiques are shared with the class (using the RStudio RPubs system) and the instructor. A pilot study was conducted during the Fall 2015 semester at Amherst College. Students were generally skeptical of Lam’s conclusions in Diner Beware. They often provided additional supporting information from the journal articles that better describe the results. By independently assessing and comparing the original study’s conclusions with the capsule summary in the "Study of Studies", students have practice developing judgment and assessing the validity of statistical results.



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