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“What is a sandpit?”

From Private Eye 1399, in Pseuds Corner:

What is a sandpit?

Sandpits are residential interactive workshops over five days involving 20-30 participants; the director, a team of expert mentors, and a number of independent stakeholders. Sandpits have a highly multidisciplinary mix of participants, some active researchers and others potential users of research outcomes, to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to address research challenges. [continues for three pages]

Here’s the webpage, from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (U.K.).

That’s right, social scientists aren’t the only ones who have to put up with this sort of b.s.

And get this:

Due to group dynamics and continual evaluation it is not possible to ‘dip in and out’ of the process. Participants must stay for the whole duration of the event.

I just hope they let the participants go into town for the occasional meal, and they don’t stick them with cafeteria food for five straight days. Lateral thinking, indeed.


  1. Anonymous says:

    I think “Sandpit psychology” could be compared to “Sandbox psychology” in terms of usefulness of the process, group dynamics, and activities. The only real difference being the age of the participants:

  2. Dale Lehman says:

    I’m not horrified. In fact, I kind of like the idea. I wish public policy involved efforts like this – I think I recall some experiments with regulatory policy based on similarly structured discourse. Of course, I hope it isn’t like EST training (which restricted bathroom breaks). And, I hope the food is good – better yet, hold these in Italy. But as a decision making innovation, I think this has superior potential to the way it is done now (published research, politics, blogs, etc.).

    • Bob says:

      Here’s a related public policy process—hot tubbing

      “Hot-tubbing,” common practice in Australian courts, is also known by the less colourful label “concurrent evidence.” It means that expert witnesses in a complex, technical trial – such as a patent dispute about pharmaceuticals, for example – can testify in court together on a panel, rather than one-by-one in the witness box.

      See, for example,


      • Dale Lehman says:

        I’ve been an expert witness in numerous regulatory proceedings. Occasionally, (unfortunately rarely) it is been a panel format where the experts from both sides testify together. Most of the time, each expert testifies separately – and, most of the time, there is only cross examination so if you don’t get asked about something you don’t get to talk about it. The panel format is far superior.

      • Martha (Smith) says:

        A notable quote from Bob’s first link (toward the end):

        “It is judges who seem to like the hot-tub idea the most. Prominent voices from the bench in Canada have been praising the idea. Mr. Finlay cites a 2009 Federal Court decision on a pharmaceutical patent battle between Eli Lilly & Co. and Toronto-based generic giant Apotex Inc., by Madam Justice Johanne Gauthier, in which she wrote that “the use of hot-tubbing would have been particularly useful.”

        Mr. Justice Ian Binnie of the Supreme Court of Canada wrote in a recent paper that “‘duelling experts’ may make bad teachers” and argued that courts should look to new ways of doing things, such as hot-tubbing or out-of-court seminars with expert witnesses to help judges understand scientific or complex financial issues at stake in a trial.

        Hot tubs, Judge Binnie wrote, might keep expert witnesses on their best behaviour: “The theory is that experts testifying in the presence of one another are likely to be more measured and complete in their pronouncements, knowing that exaggeration or errors will be pounced upon instantly by a learned colleague, as opposed to being argued about days later, perhaps by unlearned opposing counsel.”

        Mr. Finlay, a veteran litigator familiar with hot tubs at administrative tribunals, acknowledged that not all lawyers are thrilled with the prospect. Some say more outspoken experts might unfairly dominate a hot-tub panel. Other say they will need to spend more time preparing witnesses for a back-and-forth with the opposing side. And if the experts end up in a vehement debate, it is easy to argue that court time could be wasted, not saved.

        “I think it cuts against the grain of our traditional approach,” Mr. Finlay said. “To lose control of one’s expert can be a nerve-wracking experience, or can appear to be, for a lawyer.””

        The judges’ points seem well-taken to me; the lawyers’ points seem more petty than in the interest of good decision making.

        • Jonathan (another one) says:

          “Good decision making” is not the goal of lawyers. “Decision making in which my side wins” is. Having invested careers in the belief that they can steer this process, the last thing they want to do is cede any measure of control that they currently possess.

          My favorite example is a case in which I was asked (sorry Andrew) to demonstrate what “statistical significance” meant in a particular case. I designed a simple experiment with playing cards that would precisely yield the p value at issue, which, IIRC around 0.5%. At the proposal that this demonstration be included live in my direct testimony, the attorney said, “OK. But what if it ends up in the tail?” I pointed out that my entire testimony was that this was highly unlikely and he said: “I’m not willing to take that risk.” I pointed out that just by letting me utter the p value on the stand he implicitly *was* taking that risk, and he informed me of the difference between “implicitly” and “explicitly.”

      • Steve Sailer says:

        Court cases take too long and are too boring for juries to stay focused. Borrowing techniques from television that people find more interesting seems promising.

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