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First Word


First Word
Scott Paton

Isn't It Ironic?

Life's full of little ironies, and quality is no different.

I am constantly amazed at the contradictions I face in my daily work. Take, for example, the public relations people who relentlessly pursue me to publish their clients' articles but then fail to meet publication deadlines.

 A more ominous irony occurred when I attended the ISO TC 176 meeting in San Francisco in September. I had registered as a press attendee for the committee meeting several weeks in advance. I arrived on Friday to attend the SC2 and SC3 plenary meetings, during which the member countries would decide whether to advance ISO 9001:2000 and ISO 9004:2000 to draft international standard status. During the meetings, we heard numerous committee members report that they were working on ISO 9000:2000-related articles they hoped to publish in various trade journals. They reminded one another of the importance of "getting the word out" about the new standards. They even stressed the importance of working with the media to avoid confusion about the revised standard.

 Imagine my surprise when I showed up for the closing plenary session on Saturday and the chair of the committee meeting asked all members of the media to leave, stating that it was "a closed meeting." Just think of the committee members' frustration if we had politely asked them not to send their articles to us! If the committee members truly want to spread the word, they're going to have to be a lot more open to the press.

     In another ironic twist, the September issue of Quality Progress, published by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), featured an article on ethics in the quality profession. It's interesting that the ASQ would publish its code of ethics in Quality Progress when the magazine apparently doesn't adhere to it.

      Let me explain. Like almost all trade magazines, Quality Digest's circulation is audited by an independent third-party auditor known as BPA International. The process is similar to an ISO 9000 audit or financial audit by a CPA firm. It's our way of assuring advertisers that our circulation numbers are really what we claim they are. If we were to exaggerate about our circulation numbers (enabling us to charge more for advertising), we would lose our BPA International membership and a great deal of credibility. In addition to our audit, we must file a Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation with the U.S. Postal Service and publish the statement in our December issue each year.

 ASQ refuses to participate in the BPA International audit process. Instead it publishes a "sworn statement" that outlines Quality Progress' circulation numbers. And the ASQ's   nonprofit status exempts it from having to publish its Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation in Quality Progress. Therefore, there's no independent validation that advertisers can use when comparing Quality Progress' circulation figures to those of its competitors, Quality Digest, Quality and Quality in Manufacturing. You'd assume that the ASQ would report its numbers ethically in its sworn statement, yet its numbers are different in nearly every piece of material the society produces. In December 1997, the last year ASQ chose to publish its Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation, it showed a total paid circulation of 109,000. However, the sworn statement from December 31, 1997 showed 97,175. Quality Progress' 1998 media kit claimed 85,000 "primary readers" (i.e., subscribers).

 Is ASQ's sworn statement a fabrication? Probably not. But the BPA is very strict about how circulation is calculated. Does ASQ's sworn statement reflect BPA's criteria? Who knows? A sworn statement lacks accountability. That's why industry asks ISO 9000-registered companies to have their ISO 9000 or QS-9000 quality management system audited by a third party: It ensures unbiased reporting of the facts.

 It's time for ASQ to stop this circulation shell game and be held accountable for its circulation numbers. If the society is going to start preaching ethics to its members, it ought to start living by its own rules.

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