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By Al and Vik
Oh, the twists and turns as Ron “The Pretzel” Goetzel tries to wriggle out of all his ethical stumbles.
This time around, we thought we had nailed both him and his cabal handing out the ironically named C. Everett Koop Award to themselves and their friends based on made-up outcomes. Specifically, this time they gave their sponsor (Health Fitness Corporation, or HFC) an award based on data that was obviously made up, that no non-sponsor could have gotten away with submitting. This was the third such instance we’ve uncovered of a pattern of giving awards to sponsors for submitting invalid data while making sure that the award announcement contains no reference to the sponsorship. (There are probably others; we’ve only examined 3, which might explain why we’ve only found 3.)
How obviously was the data made up? Well, take a looksee at this slide, comparing participants to non-participants. This is the classic wellness ignorati ruse: pretending that non-motivated inactive non-participants can be used as a valid control for comparison to active, motivated participants. The wellness ignorati would have us believe that any healthcare spending “separation” between the two groups can be attributed to wellness programs, not to inherent differences in motivation between the two groups. Unfortunately for the ignorati, their own slide invalidates their own argument: in 2005, the label “Baseline Year” shows there was no program to participate in, and yet – as their own slide shows – participants (in blue) significantly underspent non-participants (in red) nonetheless. In Surviving Workplace Wellness, we call this “Wellness Meets Superman,” because the only way this could happen is for the earth to spin backwards.
Given that the 2005 baseline label was in plain view, we just assumed that HFC did not indeed have a program in place for this customer (Eastman Chemical) in 2005, which is why they called 2005 a “Baseline Year” instead of a “Treatment Year.” Not actually having a program would logically explain why they said that didn’t have a program, and why they used that display or variations of it like the one below for 4 years with the exact same label. Presumably if they had had a program in 2005, someone at HFC would have noticed during those 4 years and relabeled it accordingly.
Originally we thought the Koop Award Committee let this invalidating mistake slide because HFC — and for that matter, Eastman Chemical — sponsor the awards they somehow usually win. But while trying to throw a bone to HFC, the Koop Award luminaries overlooked the profound implication that the year 2005 separation of would-be participants and non-participants self-invalidated essentially the entire wellness industry, meaning that is is an admission of guilt that the industry-standard methodology is made up.
Goetzel the Pretzel to the rescue. He painstakingly explains away this prima facie invalidation. Apparently the year 2005 was “unfortunately mislabeled.” Note the pretzelesque use of the passive voice, like “the ballgame was rained out,” seemingly attributing this mislabeling to an act of either God or Kim-Jung-Un. He is claiming that instead of noticing this invalidator and letting this analysis slide by with a wink-and-a-nod to their sponsor, none of the alleged analytical luminaries on the Koop Committee noticed that the most important slide in the winning application was mislabeled — even though this slide is in plain view. We didn’t need Edward Snowden to hack into their system to blow up their scam. They once again proved our mantra that “in wellness you don’t need to challenge the data to invalidate it. You merely need to read the data. It will invalidate itself.”
We call this the “Dumb and Dumber” defense. Given two choices, Goetzel the Pretzel would much prefer claiming sheer stupidity on the part of himself, his fellow Koop Award committee members like Staywell’s David Anderson and Wellsteps’ Steve Aldana, and his sponsor HFC, rather than admit the industry’s methodology is a scam and that they’ve been lying to us all these years to protect their incomes.
Still, the Dumb-and-Dumber defense is a tough sell. You don’t need Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot or even Inspector Clouseau to detect a few holes in the Pretzel’s twisted logic:
- How could no one – no member of the Koop Award Committee or employee of Health Fitness Corporation (which used this as its “money slide” for years) – have noticed this until we pointed it out for the third time (the first two times not being as visible to the public)?
- In early 2012, this slide was reproduced–with the permission of Health Fitness Corporation–right on p. 85 of Why Nobody Believes the Numbers, with the entire explanation of its hilarious impossibility. We know Mr. Goetzel read this book, because he copied material out of it before the publisher, John Wiley & Sons, made him stop. So we are curious as to why it has taken until now for him to notice this “unfortunate mislabeling.” Hmm…would the fact that it was just exposed to the world in Health Affairs have anything to do with this sudden epiphany? We’re just sayin’…
- If indeed it was just an “unfortunate mislabeling,” how come HFC has now expunged all references to this previously highlighted slide from their website, rather than simply change the label?
As regards the third point, we would recommend that next time Mr. Goetzel invokes the Dumb-and-Dumber defense, he coordinate his spin with his sponsor.
But let’s not overlook the biggest point: the entire Koop Committee – including “numbers guys” like Milliman’s Bruce Pyenson and Mercer’s Dan Gold — is apparently incapable of reading a simple outcomes slide, as they’ve proven over and over.
So, as a goodwill gesture, we will offer a 50% discount to all Koop Committee members for the Critical Outcomes Report Analysis course and certification. This course will help these committee members learn how to avoid the embarrassing mistakes they consistently otherwise make and (assuming they institute conflict-of-interest rules as well to require disclosure of sponsorships in award announcements) perhaps increase the odds that worthy candidates win their awards for a change.