Moshe Ronen Letter 04 24-Mar-2000 Selling pie in the sky when you die, and other methodological weaknesses
"In other words, the impression that your answer would be trying to correct here is that a CJC promotional staff promise of increased sales following kosher certification finds no better empirical backing than does the promise of pie in the sky when you die." — Lubomyr Prytulak
March 24, 2000
Canadian Jewish Congress
100 Sparks Street Suite 650
Telephone: (613) 233-8703
Fax: (613) 233-8748
First methodological weakness — no evidence of effect:
Is the CJC selling pie in the sky when you die?
As a student of research methodology, I think it implausible that Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) salesmen can demonstrate to manufacturers that the adoption of kosher labelling will increase sales, or that it has increased sales.
The reason is that the sales volume of any given product will fluctuate both before and after kosher certification, making any small change in volume caused by certification — assuming for the sake of argument that one existed — impossible to detect above the background noise. Furthermore, the CJC sales staff could offer the interpretation that any increase in sales that took place prior to kosher certification was caused by the anticipation of certification; and that any increase in sales that lagged certification was caused by consumers slowly learning of the certification or using up their stocks of the old uncertified product before purchasing the new certified product. As there is bound to be some upward blip in sales in the months before or in the months after certification, CJC sales representatives could point to this blip as the beneficial effect of the certification.
In the case of an utter absence of any upward blip, CJC sales personnel could point to an increase in sales compared to the same time last year. In case that sales were lower than last year, CJC sales staff could argue that kosher certification kept sales from falling as much as they had for other manufacturers.
In other words, CJC salesmen could offer a number of suggestive pieces of data which might succeed in convincing naive manufacturers that kosher certification of their product had increased sales. What CJC salesmen would typically be unable to offer, however, is evidence that would convince someone knowledgeable in the area of research methodology and data interpretation that kosher accreditation had increased sales. Such convincing evidence could only come from an experiment, and an experiment would be impractical to run in this context, requiring as it would that the product be given kosher certification in several randomly-chosen areas (the experimental areas) but not in others (the control areas), and that the consumers in experimental and control areas remain unaware of the different treatment being accorded elsewhere — requirements that would be so difficult to satisfy, that I doubt if they have ever been so much as attempted.
Second methodological weakness — the independent variable is confounded:
Announcement in the Jewish press is not the same as package labelling
Kosher certification impinges on the public in at least two major ways — (1) the announcement of the certification in the Jewish press, and (2) the appearance of kosher labels on the product packaging. Although it is possible that these two have equivalent effects, it is also possible that the effect of one considerably outweighs the other. For example, it is possible that the announcement in the Jewish press produces a one-time upsurge in purchasing on the part of loyal Jews, but that the number of consumers who actually check product labels when they shop, and actually go to the trouble to locate and to purchase kosher-certified alternatives is infinitesimal, and of no economic significance.
It is even possible that the two components have opposite effects — as for example, that the announcement in the Jewish press leads to a one-time surge in buying, but that the presence of the kosher label on the product leads to a prolonged, low-scale boycott on the part of consumers who, for example, object to the cruelty of Jewish ritual slaughter, or who wish to avoid supporting, however indirectly, Israeli war crimes against Palestinians, or who wish to avoid supporting, however indirectly, Jewish show trials whether these are conducted in Israel or in Canada or in the United States. Actually, the last of these possibilities (that announcement in the Jewish press leads to buying, but labelling on the product package leads to boycott) is the most plausible, as it would serve to explain why it is that the meaning of kosher labels is in effect a secret that is kept from the general public, as I noted in my Ukrainian Archive posting of 14Dec99, What I found in my pantry, and as I discussed in my letter to you of 15Mar00, Three questions concerning kosher labelling.
Thus, for CJC promotional staff to speak of an effect of kosher certification without breaking down kosher certification into at least its two manifestations testifies perhaps to the dubious competence, or perhaps to the lax integrity, of this staff in properly evaluating the effect of kosher certification.
Third methodological weakness — ignoring interactions:
Do Arabs really imitate Orthodox Jewish purchasing patterns?
The discussion immediately above will remind every student of scientific method that there can be no single effect of kosher certification, but rather that the effect will depend upon other factors, such as the characteristics of the consumers, a phenomenon which goes under the technical designation of an "interaction."
Thus, in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, consumers might indeed prefer the kosher-certified product. However, in an Arab neighborhood, consumers might prefer to boycott any product whose purchase put money into Jewish pockets. Similarly, in any population harboring animal-rights sensitivities, the purchase of a kosher-certified product might be avoided because it entailed indirect support of inhumane Jewish ritual slaughter. Similarly, any people who had been the targets of Jewish show trials might prefer products that had not been kosher certified.
Thus, for CJC promotional staff to speak of, or to assume or to imply, a single effect of kosher certification without acknowledging the presence of such interactions would also testify to the low competence, or lax integrity, of this CJC promotional staff in evaluating the effect of kosher certification.
which you might try to correct
The impression that your answer would be trying to correct here is that CJC promotional staff are able to offer a manufacturer no creditable evidence that kosher labelling will increase sales of his product, or that it has increased sales. In other words, the impression that your answer would be trying to correct here is that a CJC promotional staff promise of increased sales following kosher certification finds no better empirical backing than does the promise of pie in the sky when you die.
Furthermore, another impression that your answer would be trying to correct here is that CJC promotional staff are at best too naive to understand that an empirical substantiation of the claim that kosher certification increases sales necessitates the separation of the independent variable into its components (such as announcement in the Jewish press as opposed to package labelling), and necessitates the measuring of interactions (such as preference for kosher products by one group and boycott by another).