Dot one: Accenture, according to a recent article has taken the position that, as the title says, “SOA key to survival for businesses — Adoption will make you stronger and faster, expert says,” (Emmet Ryan, The Register, 3/15/2007). In it, Accenture’s David Nichols pulls no punches. His prediction: “Companies that evolve to this [SOA] will survive. Those that do not, will not.”

To support this assertion he hauls out the usual arguments about agility, athleticism and so on. He might even be right, assuming that the “huge undertaking” Accenture says is required to implement services oriented architecture includes (in addition to support from its consultants): Eliminating office politics and organizational silos, firing narcissistic executives, improving corporate governance, and implementing Lean, Six Sigma, Lean Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints, Lean Theory of Constraints, or the Sigmoid Theory of Six Lean Constraints.

Depending on your company’s competitive circumstances, any one of these might easily be more important to its survival than implementing SOA (except for the last two, which I made up). For some companies, something as prosaic as changing advertising agencies deserves a higher priority than an SOA implementation.

Here’s one other salient fact presented in the article: Accenture has invested $450 million in SOA — internally and in its service offerings. Depending on whether you’re an admirer or a cynic, you’ll either figure Accenture has the courage of its convictions, or that it has a lot riding on clients hiring it to help them implement SOA.

Both explanations are plausible, and they aren’t mutually exclusive. Anyway, this column isn’t about services oriented architecture or Accenture. It’s about dots.

Dot two: David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life Program at Children’s Hospital in Boston, and his team published an article titled “Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles,” (PLoS Medicine, 1/9/2007).

Dr. Ludwig and his team compared the findings of 111 investigations into the nutritional consequences of drinking milk, juice and soft drinks — some industry-funded, the rest supported through independent grants. Dr. Ludwig’s team found that industry-funded research is more than seven times more likely to publish results favorable to the sponsor than independently funded research.

Imagine that.

Dr. Ludwig’s results should be unsurprising to anyone old enough to brush their own teeth. They matter because they make industry untrustworthiness official, not because we didn’t know this before. We’ve all become inured to the phenomenon: There are even those who defend the cigarette manufacturers that sponsored bogus research showing that cancer sticks are harmless, on the grounds that anyone with half a brain should have known to ignore it.

Connecting these two dots matters to those of us who toil in the trenches of IT management, or more generally in the trenches of business management, because un-sponsored research is hard to find and harder to distinguish from the other kind.

Accenture’s financial stake in SOA is stated. That isn’t usually the case. Take a look at any industry publication and see if the publisher clearly identifies the stories that started life as press releases. They don’t, but they should.

The research firms are no better. When the vendors they rate also subscribe to one or more of their very expensive services, any claim of impartiality must be considered questionable at best and disingenuous at worst.

And the situation is deteriorating. Once upon a time, independent test labs routinely compared the performance and features of just about every technology you can buy. These comparisons are becoming a faint, quaint memory, the victims of end-user license agreements (EULAs) that prohibit publication of performance data. That means in many cases the only data you can get comes from the manufacturer.

So the trade press publishes one sponsored study showing Windows is more reliable than Linux, followed by another sponsored study demonstrating the reverse. Yawn.

Subscribers to Keep the Joint Running know my preference for evidence-driven decision-making. Most of you share it. It’s hard when so much of the available evidence is tainted. The question is what you can do about it.

The answer is to be found in the Constitution, whose framers recognized the problem back in the 18th century. Recognizing that no source of information could be trusted they instead placed their trust in the marketplace of ideas — the principle that underlies the First Amendment to the Constitution.

You should do the same. In the absence of trustworthy sources, take your information from many. It’s the theory of the blogosphere: Out of enough noise, signal sometimes emerges.

It isn’t a wonderful answer. But it will have to do.