Performance Perspectives Blog

When random isn’t so random

by | Feb 7, 2012

In conducting research studies, we often want to introduce a degree of randomness, to avoid the potential bias that might creep in if we select our cases directly. There are random number generators available to assist us, although many of them have been challenged for their “true randomness.” I know that in research I’m doing on transaction based attribution, I sometimes question whether the random number generator I’ve chosen is truly producing random results.

While sitting at the boarding area in Oslo, Norway this past Saturday, after conducting a GIPS(R) (Global Investment Performance Standards) verification for a client, one of the officials mentioned that there would be security checks done on a random basis. Well, I soon learned what random meant.

A young man, probably in his mid-to-late 20s, was the security person charged with “randomly” selecting passengers. I observed as he walked up and down the rows of passengers who were seated, awaiting word to board. A couple rows across from me was a very attractive young lady; and sure enough, she was his first “random” selection. While at first I thought this was humorous, when I observed that he was the one who carried out the full body search (and I want to emphasize the word “full”), I became a bit disturbed. But I became even more upset when I saw that his second “random” passenger was another young, attractive woman. This time the girl’s father came rushing over, when he learned that she was to be screened. But this didn’t deter the security man from once again carrying out the full body search.

Shortly thereafter we boarded, and this episode continued to bother me, to the point that I mentioned it to the attendant in charge, who suggested I contact United when I got home. Well, I decided to go up to some of the passengers who were forced to undergo what I saw as an embarrassing ordeal. I went first to the father of the young girl, who expressed his upset at what had occurred, and how he was reluctant to say much, fearing the result (thinking that  he might even be arrested); i.e., he was intimidated by security. I ended up speaking with several of the young  ladies (and there were several; all attractive) who were randomly picked. I wanted to see if I could get their contact information, in the event United wanted to speak with them.

Well, the compliant has been filed, and we’ll see what becomes of it. But so much for randomness, right? What good is this extra level of security when most of those selected are young, attractive women (the heck with the older guy with explosives strapped to his body!).

Randomness: a great concept that offers much value, but only if it really is random.

p.s., In the unlikely event you’re wondering what my issues were: first, it wasn’t random, which defeats the purpose of the exercise; second, a woman should have done the body checks of women; third, when checking “private” areas, the back of the hand should be used, not the front. Need I say more?

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