Random-promotion discoveries, now and then

Last month, three Italian researchers were awarded an Ig Nobel prize for demonstrating mathematically that organisations would become more efficient if they promoted people at random. But their research was neither the beginning nor the end of the story of how bureaucracies try – and fail – to find a good promotion method.

Alessandro Pluchino, Andrea Rapisarda and Cesare Garofalo, of the University of Catania, Sicily, calculated how a pick-at-random promotion scheme compares with other, more enshrined methods. They gave details in the journal Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and Its Applications.

The three based their work on the Peter Principle – the notion that many people are promoted, sooner or later, to positions that exceed their competence. They cite the works of other researchers who had taken tentative steps in the same direction, but they fail to mention an unintentionally daring 2001 study by Steven E Phelan and Zhiang Lin at the University of Texas at Dallas, published in the journal Computational and Mathematical Organization Theory….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.