Sheldon Jacobson Ph.D. '88 Urges the Operations Research Profession to Embrace Information Engineering
Since earning his Ph.D. in ORIE in 1988, Professor Sheldon Jacobson of the University of Illinois has held Operations Research (OR) positions in a school of management, a department of industrial engineering, and a department of mechanical and industrial engineering, before his current affiliation in computer science. He also currently holds affiliate appointments in mathematics, civil and environmental engineering and the College of Medicine at his university. He is recognized as an expert on aviation security system design and analysis, problems in public health, and NCAA basketball "March Madness" Bracketology.
In an article in ORMS Today, the membership magazine of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), Jacobson urges his fellow professionals to follow ORIE's lead and embrace Information Engineering. In 2007, ORIE changed the word "Industrial" to "Information" in its name, becoming the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering.
A Change That Makes Sense
Changing the name for which the acronym ORIE stands "certainly made sense" for Cornell, given the School's "thrust areas and direction for growth," Jacobson says. "The OR community has a unique opportunity to take ownership of a label for what is likely to be a growing and emerging area of interest well into the foreseeable future," he concludes.
In the article, Jacobson points out that for operations research (OR) professionals, "information lies at the core of what we do; we collect it, synthesize it and manipulate it." "Information engineering can be the label that sets OR apart from our brethren engineering disciplines," he writes to his professional community. "The engineering label can be presented as a positive force to represent a technically rigorous analysis of problems of significant interest within the business community."
Jacobson uses service system modeling - with emerging applications in health care, productivity improvements and service delivery - as an illustration of the way in which manipulations of information serve to use physical assets in new and better ways. He notes that supply chain management, data mining, and applications of Bayesian statistics are "yet other examples where information is manipulated and analyzed to achieve new insights."
ORIE Professor Shane Henderson said "Sheldon is one of those rare individuals who cross many disciplinary boundaries and have impact in a host of areas. He has a sense for important problems, and draws on statistics, probability, optimization and other techniques to solve those problems. He is a true information engineer!"
Jacobson's most recent work in aviation security advocates a strategic shift in the allocation of aviation security resources to "make the entire air system more secure and convenient for the majority of travelers, and more onerous and challenging for those intent on causing harm to the air system," according to a recent interview. He proposes to identify the relatively large group of people who pose no threat, perhaps 60 to 70 percent of travelers, and subject them to a standard level of security, freeing up resources to screen the remaining travelers with the more advanced technologies and procedures. "We want to 'right size' security," says Jacobson, who received an industry award for his work on aviation security.
Jacobson has also published research on the stockpiling of pediatric vaccines, noting that the current "one size fits all" policy of the Centers for Disease control is "not the most efficient policy." According to Jacobson, "maintaining a six-month rotating vaccine stockpile isn't the most optimal solution for achieving 'herd immunity,'" which occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population has been immunized against a disease to protect unvaccinated individuals as well. (Related work on vaccine distribution is underway in ORIE).
Jacobson and co-authors also discovered that obesity rates are correlated with miles driven per driver six years earlier. Correlation does not prove causality nor that obesity can be reversed by reducing automobile use. However "future obesity data will provide critical evidence that either support or refute the model proposed" the authors say.
In another study relating to public health, Jacobson and coauthors found that both fatal and personal injury accident rates went down in most counties following a ban on the use of hand-held cell phones while driving in New York State. The apparent impact of the ban on personal injury accidents was more substantial in urban counties in the state, where driving is more congested.
In other applied work, Jacobson has something to say about the popular practice of predicting the outcome of the annual NCAA "March Madness" basketball tournament by filling in published diagrams representing the series of games in the tournament schedule, a practice known as "bracketology." Most fans are guided by the ranking of teams, or "seeding," established by the tournament selection committee. However using data from 25 years of March Madness, Jacobson concluded that for the "elite eight" remaining in the tournament after three rounds of play, "flipping a coin is as much a determinant as seeding." The subject of bracketology has found its way into ORIE's introductory course in the spring as a motivation, at March Madness time, to learn more about the relevant OR disciplines that can be brought to bear.
Jacobson, who grew up a hockey fan in Montreal, developed a taste for basketball while getting his Ph.D. at Cornell. In addition to his work on a diverse array of applications, he has made significant contributions to the methodology of discrete event simulation modeling, analysis and optimization, and to discrete optimization algorithms and heuristic analysis.