Articles, PSQH September 1, 2015

How to Keep Score

by Barry P Chaiken, MD

In this age of Yelp®, TripAdvisor®, and Amazon®, product reviews greatly influence which items consumers purchase. Anyone who buys regularly online understands over time the validity of various product reviews and learns how to apply a personal algorithm to cut through to meaningful product information while ignoring prefabricated, biased content.

In addition to reviews, scoring systems provide a shortcut for evaluating a product or service by assigning a numeric value to the item. For example, wine critics employ a variety of scoring systems to evaluate wine. One system, created by the famous wine critic Robert Parker, uses a scale that ranges from 50 to 100 points. Of the 50 points up for grabs, 5 points are available for rating color or appearance, aroma and bouquet may be awarded 15 points, flavor and finish merit 20 points, and the potential for improvement—or aging—can earn the wine up to 10 points. The scores try to assign an overall value to the wine generated from the individual scores given to those four criteria. For someone interested in choosing a wine for drinking tonight, a wine with a 90-point score that reflects its higher aging potential may be an inferior choice when contrasted with a 88-point wine that is not as age worthy. If the consumer intends to drink the wine immediately, its age worthiness does not matter, and in some cases may be unpleasant to drink, as it often requires aging to become palatable.

If you think this scoring system appears misleading and a bit vulnerable to subjectivity, join the parade. Yet, wine shops price their wines based on this same unreliable scoring system, and we often purchase wine using this flawed information. Although it is obvious that the difference between a 90-point and 89-point wine is insignificant, and the higher-scored wine may potentially be inferior depending on our intended use, the price difference to the consumer for the higher-scored wine can easily exceed $30. Purchasing health information technology is obviously a riskier and more difficult decision than choosing a bottle of red wine for dinner.

Excerpts from: How to Keep Score. PSQH, July/August 2015


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