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"Geek Pride" misunderstandings...

By KiTaSuMbA in Meta
Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 05:51:35 PM EST
Tags: Kuro5hin.org (all tags)

On a recent story here on K5 regarding autism (K5 autism story), I noticed quite a few people taking deep dives in the underlying biological processes while they have no previous experience and / or education in the field.

This, per se, is not a bad thing. It's always fascinating to try to understand stuff that you are not supposed and/or required to know. What is a bad thing is persisting in your primary thesis on the matter when people with a hands-on knowledge come across to show you what you got right and what wrong and even try to discredit their work. This seems to be a symptom of exaggerated "geek pride": I've read it, I'm intelligent, I don't need your education and experience to contrast you.

Granted, sometimes being an "outsider" can be beneficial because you have more probabilities to "think out of the box." However, what I noticed on this and some other, older, stories is that people who tend to insist like that are not thinking out of the box but simply in a different box. What I see is a series of unfortunate analogies and metaphors of biological processes to computer / software-related mechanisms and technologies and a strong conviction that biological processes are deterministic ones that can be described, analyzed and controlled by an adequate number of equations and logical statements (mostly in the form of "if-then-else".) A metaphor to a technology far simpler and widely understandable is not always an error: you can use it to lighten up a discussion, or to give a general idea. The error occurs when first you make the generalising and simplistic analogy and then take the analogy for absolute truth and try to explain the complex process through the workings of the simplistic metaphor. As an example, some time ago there was this article (world's most amazing hard drive) that tried to explain our memory capacity and actually quantify it in terms of GBytes, treating the brain as a hard disk or another form of computer storage device (as if the brain saved exact info bits in precise allocation tables and inodes and retrieval occured in a manner similar to SQL queries.)

This issue is not restricted on the single area of biomedical science but expands to any technical issue that happens to be in discussion. However, I concentrate on that because a) this is what I best know of and b) people with deep knowledge of this field are by far a small minority that cannot fight back the flood of misleading non-knowledgable comments with the force of numbers of posts and RTFMs. In contrast, for example, people having good knowledge of a popular programming language like C++ are quite numerous in sites like K5 and hence their posts are not so easily lost in a sea of other comments (though I believe they still have similar problems when a technical article hits the front page.) I have no real idea of programming (except for some elementary perl and R - if you can call that programming) and that's why on a technical issue I would never jump in and discredit this or validate that specific API/library/method/ you-name-it. At most, I would report my "outsider's impressions and thoughts" and would take most seriously any corrections from a person that admittedly knows quite a lot more on the issue.

The real problem of this situation is not that of bruised egos, reciprocal accusations of ignorance and/or narrow-mindness and the definite irritation of people who falsely hoped to have an informed and serious discussion on a very technical matter with similarly knowledgable peers. The real problem is that instead of clarifying things, misinformation is maintained and actually promoted to the casual reader who, although constantly warned that info retrieved through the 'net should never been taken for granted, seems to go for what "most people say" instead of "who said what."

Of course, K5 is an open discussion community based on the principal of free expression of opinions and I have neither the will nor the power to change that. Consider this article as an invitation and request to behave as mature persons sharing ideas and opinions, yet still accepting the fact that someone else might know better...


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People "out of their waters" should:
o Stay out of the discussion, those ignorants... 2%
o Join in only to ask questions, I will enlighten them! 11%
o Join the discussion and be ready to be confuted and accept it 67%
o Down with you elitists! I'll say whatever I like! 6%
o I'm never outside my waters... I know everything and I'm always right! 11%

Votes: 203
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o K5 autism story
o world's most amazing hard drive
o Also by KiTaSuMbA

Display: Sort:
"Geek Pride" misunderstandings... | 78 comments (60 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
A wider problem than you may think (3.57 / 7) (#13)
by Shovas on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:04:17 AM EST

I'm being completely honest when I say one has only to look at Slashdot and Kuro5hin to find a veritable mine of posts concerning issues for which the author has no real experience, hard knowledge or teaching in, and yet wax eloquent as if they were intimate with the subject all their life.

A good story to write up and one that everyone needs to understand.
Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
Disagree? Post. Don't mod.
Hardly unique to geeks. (3.75 / 4) (#14)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:18:52 AM EST

That's pretty much standard human behaviour. Most people go into any situation tacitly assuming they either already know everything important or can understand it with a few moments of thought. And then they get really angry if you suggest they might need to examine the subject more closely.

This is true of issues ranging from gun control and abortion to source code styles.

Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.

[ Parent ]

Unique, no. (3.50 / 2) (#18)
by Work on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:17:05 AM EST

But more common than the rest of the populace? I believe so.

[ Parent ]
Have you ever attended (4.00 / 3) (#21)
by porkchop_d_clown on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 11:27:34 AM EST

a township board meeting, or a PTA meeting?

Ignorance is hardly ever a barrier to people expressing their absolutely certain positions.

Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.

[ Parent ]

Know any doctors? (nt) (1.00 / 1) (#29)
by ucblockhead on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 02:09:07 PM EST

This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]
Depends on issues. (3.00 / 1) (#47)
by tekue on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 05:19:51 AM EST

This is true of issues ranging from gun control and abortion to source code styles.
While this is true of issues such as molecular biology, or astronomy, the issues you've mentioned are subject to personal opinions, and no-one can be said to have the best opinion — that is assuming you are talking about legality/ethics/taste of such acts, not about technicalities.

I'm not an abortion expert, or a serious programmer, nor I know a gun from a fire hose, but an expert's oppinion about legality/ethics/taste of/in those is worth exactly the same as mine.
Humanity has advanced, when it has advanced, not because it has been sober, responsible, and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature. --Tom Robbins
[ Parent ]

Other side of the coin (4.80 / 15) (#16)
by TheophileEscargot on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:46:25 AM EST

It's certainly true that a many people post furious, patronizing or complacent comments from a position of total ignorance. Hey, that's what Internet discussion is all about. But let's not forget the other side of the coin: people who claim to be experts but are completely incapable of communicating with normal human beings.

The reason that confident bluffs are so popular is that they're successful. Faced with one lucid, succinct comment; and a contrary comment that's rambling, poorly argued, filled with (quite gratuitous) parentheses and redundant/unnecessary slashes/strokes/virgules; people tend to assume that the lucid comment is correct.

Many specialists smugly refuse to sully themselves with non-specialist readers at all, or simply nitpick every necessary simplification to death, regardless of the overall argument. Broadly correct items can get as much criticism as outright crackpottery; in some cases even more so, since cranks are often ignored.

While it's necessary for everyone to do research, writing on specialist subjects for amateur readers is often better done by conscientious amateurs than unreadable professionals. Consider Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time as one example. Written by a genius: yes, but how many lay readers understood it? Whereas cosmology books written by scientific journalists like John Gribbin are actually intelligible.

Saying "I'm an expert and I'm right" really isn't enough. Learn how to write so that people can understand you, and you've got more chance of being taken seriously in a debate.
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

ahhh... (4.50 / 4) (#19)
by KiTaSuMbA on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:39:04 AM EST

I feel like I'm the one targeted by Theophile's comment so I'll answer.
Some points:
I wouldn't expect a deeply technical article to be posted on K5. It's not the right place for it. But when a generally understandable article is followed by a comment that tries to reach the deep technical issues, someone that knows what he talks about and has a disagreement should most definately reply. That reply will be touching the commenter's specific points and thus, will be probably a lot more technical than, say, the original article. If you try to divulgate all the points, you are going to write an entire manual. For example, on the recent autism article, if i had to explain to everyone why a genetic drift is not possibly observable within 10 years I would have to "lecture" people for some long, long pages. This would be impractical, annoying and pretty much losing time. After all, if anyone is interested in learning more, he is warmly invited to use both online and accademic resources.
Elitism, which you also allude to, is a totally different issue and, yes, it is a problem. The usual "bug off you ingorant! It is like that because I say so!" is also quite frequent in the 'net. But there is a huge difference between that and "I can't explain this any simpler. If you don't get it, I'm sorry, but can't help you!"
Do I (write with many parentheses / slashes)? I'm sorry, I just can't get over it although I've been notified of the problem a lot of times. But do you think that evaluating a comment due to it's format as a fallback for non understanding the issues in the content is really a "smart" choice? I know it's expected to happen, but how do you feel about it?
On a sidenote, I found Hawking's divulgative books pretty clear although my physics and math education is at best inadequate to handle such issues.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
Not necessarily (3.00 / 1) (#41)
by seanic on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 07:11:51 PM EST

I don't think the comment was targeted.  I think he was trying to point out a tendency that many people have, oftentimes unintentionally, to soliloquize and in so doing their diction is at their own level and frequently obscure to others.  

What it comes down to is an ability to communicate in such a way that is clearly understandable by a majority of reasonably educated people.  It is very much like the skills required by teachers who must make some assumptions as to the education of the children they are trying to teach.  It is, for instance, reasonable to assume that a second year physics student has a good grasp of calculus but not of quantum spin states.  I can sympathize with the position of not wanting to give a nine page dissertation in order to elucidate every detail but it is necessary to be as pithy as possible.

I do notice, however, that some people are intentionally haughty and propagate the belittling myth that others are too stupid to understand complex things.  I also notice that most of these type of people are politicians. :-)

"The majority of the stupid is invincible and guaranteed for all time. The terror of their tyranny is, however, alleviated by their lack of consistency" -- Albert Einstein
[ Parent ]

Knowledge for the masses... (4.00 / 3) (#22)
by DLWormwood on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 11:32:49 AM EST

You're advocating a concept known as "vulgarization," like Carl Sagan was known for with the Cosmos series and his book. (As well as book series like "$TOPIC For Dummies.)"

Part of the reason elites avoid vulgarizing their knowledge is that it causes them to be taken less seriously by their peers, since making anything for the masses requires some degree of "dumbing down" which is almost a heresy to more high-minded types. This, combined with the pejorative meanings "vulgar" has adopted over the centuries, contributes to the continuing existence of "Brainy Smurf" types who try, vainly, to be both amateur and expert at the same time.
Those who complain about affect & effect on k5 should be disemvoweled
[ Parent ]

Re : Knowledge for the masses... (4.00 / 1) (#32)
by bob6 on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 04:15:15 PM EST

I'm not sure who you mean by elites. If it includes scientists, I beg to disagree.
Most scientists I know recognize the quality and the difficulty of spreading cutting edge scientific research vocabulary and context further than the usual special journals. This includes vulgarisation books as well as educational material for [under]grads. When one decides to write such a book, it requires a course-free conference-free sabbatic year of hard work. And when the book is done, [s]he gets a *lot* of peer recognition for that.
Maybe I just have delusions when assimilating scientific research to any kind of elite (which makes an interesting topic per se).

[ Parent ]
Depends on the field (4.00 / 2) (#34)
by greenrd on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 04:32:22 PM EST

That definitely depends on the field. I doubt that a disciple of Derrida would get much kudos from their peers from writing a dumbed-down version in plain English or plain French, if even that were possible. I suspect also that this dearth of dumbing down is a good heuristic for separating the real fields from the obscurantist pomp-and-puffery.

"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

true but... (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by sesh on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 08:36:29 PM EST

The reason that confident bluffs are so popular is that they're successful. [...] people tend to assume that the lucid comment is correct.

You make a good argument. However, I think that we can rely on the common sense and research accumen of our target audience to deduce the more correct, or at least sensible, argument from our resources. I am fairly certain that while I could definitely be swayed by a charismatic pose, I certainly put greater stock in cited references. A lucid but ignorant argument would typically have a smaller (or at least less reliable) bibliography.

Of course, there are outliers whose general appeal to the masses seems to completely outweigh the gratuitous dubiousness of the [mis]information they present (Rush Limbaugh for example), but once again, I think we can rely on K5 readership's savvy to a certain degree.

Furthermore there are tools at our disposal. We may not be able to rely on low ratings for succinct but poorly researched comments, good phrasing does not generally get a person modded down. Poorly phrased comments will often be ignored by those who cannot see past poor phrasing and grammar, but will be modded up by those who can (resulting in higher average mods for technically sound arguments). We have the technology!

[ Parent ]

An easily preventable tragedy. (4.57 / 7) (#17)
by OzJuggler on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:48:02 AM EST

Due to the consensual nature of reality there is potential for the tragic and permanent distortion of the truth if misinformation is 1) not identified as such and 2) allowed to propagate and be recorded as fact.

Other korroders are right in pointing out that a refusal to recognise the expertise of other people is a trait that is not restricted to geeks. Anyone can be stubborn.
However I think that this article is worthwhile as a timely reminder that Might does not make Right, and that there is no relationship between eloquence and veracity. (including this comment.)

And you can also help by making sure you give high ratings to comments which DO clarify disputes and clean up misinformation.
"And I will not rest until every year families gather to spend December 25th together
at Osama's homo abortion pot and commie jizzporium." - Jon Stewart's gift to Bill O'Reilly, 7 Dec 2005.

...film at 11... (3.85 / 7) (#20)
by wji on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 11:25:13 AM EST

Um, besides "Some 'geeks' are prone to pretend they know shit when they don't" this doesn't seem to say much. I think anyone that hasn't noticed that is the kind of person we're talking about, so this seems kind of pointless.

Actually, this all has to do with human psychology, you see, the theory of cognitive dissonance...

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.

No I don't see (none / 0) (#53)
by Fon2d2 on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 11:02:56 AM EST

What about the theory of cognitive dissonance?  I've never heard of it.  What does it state?

[ Parent ]
It was a joke (none / 0) (#63)
by wji on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 02:59:07 PM EST

I was jawing on about something way outside my expertise.

IIRC, the theory of cognitive dissonance is something like, 'people want to hang around people that have the image of them that they have'. So if you have low self-esteem you hang around people who insult you, etc. But that's probably a gross mangling of the theory, which proves my point.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]

Hmm, that's an interesting theory (none / 0) (#64)
by Fon2d2 on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 03:47:26 PM EST

Seriously, I have to admit some trouble putting my brain around that one. It doesn't sound like it accounts for the full complexity of social relationships but I wouldn't be surprised if it played a big role. Maybe this is something to keep in mind while observing oneself and others in social situations. Very interesting.

[ Parent ]
Expert syndrome (4.20 / 10) (#25)
by ucblockhead on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 12:04:07 PM EST

This isn't a "Geek" thing. I've seen the exact reverse trying to help physicists and doctors with computers. Often, when people become an expert in a particular field, they end up assuming they can be experts in every field with a minimal amount of effort.

In my experience, the smarter the person is, the worse the syndrome is.
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup

it isn't just experts (none / 0) (#77)
by akma on Tue Nov 12, 2002 at 10:50:42 AM EST

It's something related to something you find in every job. In almost all fields, from garbage man to the highest levels of any academic field, almost everybody thinks their little piece of the pie is somehow super important, requires special knowledge/talent/skill, and that those who have yet to gain this same knowledge or who lack this talent are stupid. If others don't already know some little quirk or such from their field, those people are stupid or "lesser" some how. The garbage man sees that people throw out stuff that can be fixed in 1 minute, or see that people put trash outside in a way that the trash guy has learned is harded to pick up, and he thinks the people are stupid. New tech support people who may barely know how to do more than fill in the blanks in the dial-up networking portion of win* think they're super important, and that most clients are stupid because they haven't yet learned how to fill in those blanks. The sys/network-admins in the NOC think the tech support monkeys are stupid because they've yet to learn routing or how to use chmod and how without the sys/network-admins running computers the whole world would stop, the sun would go out, and God would re-set the universe. Talk to many dentists and you'd find they're amazed that the world didn't end centuries ago because most of mankind didn't brush their teeth as musch as the detists say you should, or didn't already know the recently discovered cure for some weird gum disease. Those doing medical billing think all patients who don't know how to file their own insurance are stupid. There's an endless list of examples. Many of those people all think you have to have some kind of unique or special talent/skill that no one outside their little role/areas of interest has to be intelligent. Only they are unique and special based off of the roll they fulfill. Only super intelligent people can do their little job. My own worthless theory is that its related to people's desire for status. They get status, they get laid more. So I guess it's simply related to the urge to pro-create like almost everything we do is.

Those in the world shouting "Yankee go home" should bear in mind that the people of the South have been saying the same thing for over 100 years now, but the damned bastards won't leave.
[ Parent ]
You know... (3.42 / 7) (#26)
by gauntlet on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 12:13:01 PM EST

I wish when people posted stories about things like this that there was some sort of technical committee of people that had to OK it before it got through the Queue. I appreciate that it's being discussed at all, but sometimes no information is better than wrong information, you know?

First of all, what the hell is the author talking about when he says, "a different box?" There is only one box. That's why it's "thinking outside THE box," and not "thinking outside A box." If he had read the books I have read in my university studies on the subject, he'd know that.

Furthermore, a metaphor that can't be overused is not worth starting out with. It's like a lawnmower: If you're not going to be able to cut down a tree with it, why bother to start mowing the lawn?

The author's putting in a good effort, here, but his elementary understanding of the subject matter is probably doing more harm than good. I'd suggest looking up some reputable resources on the subject, rather than wasting your time on this article.

Into Canadian Politics?

Yes, I Do Know. (none / 0) (#57)
by phylum on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 01:03:05 PM EST

The author's putting in a good effort, here, but his elementary understanding of the subject matter is probably doing more harm than good. I'd suggest looking up some reputable resources on the subject, rather than wasting your time on this article.

The author isn't posting a posit for the Society of Philosophical Inquiry. If you're expecting nothing but qualified posts from academically trained subject matter experts, you're in the wrong place; otherwise, Kuro5hin would only consist of DCOM-vs.-CORBA arguments and the occasional Monty Python thread. :-)

He's just soliciting feedback regarding an experience. Unclench, OK?


[ Parent ]

Whoa. (none / 0) (#73)
by gauntlet on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 11:05:59 AM EST

Dude. It's called sarcasm. He writes a story complaining about how people complain about the technical innaccuracies of stories, so I complain about the technical innaccuracies of his story.

It was designed to be funny, as if I had missed the point of his article completely, and proceeded to do what it condemns.

I'm no comedic genious, but I thought that was obvious.

Into Canadian Politics?
[ Parent ]

You See... (none / 0) (#74)
by phylum on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 12:58:54 PM EST

Sometimes, I forget that people know how to be funny. Mea culpa. :)


[ Parent ]

nice (none / 0) (#75)
by tps12 on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 05:09:37 PM EST

He writes a story complaining about how people complain about the technical innaccuracies of stories, so I complain about the technical innaccuracies of his story.
Your joke is only funny because that is not actually what the article is about.

[ Parent ]
your comments on the autism story were sufficient (3.20 / 10) (#27)
by speek on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:43:50 PM EST

No need to post a story and lecture all of us. You do realize that in the autism story you were talking with just a couple people, out of hundreds and thousands that probably read it? You don't expect to be 100% successful when dealing with people, do you?

And I understand you're just an amateur when it comes to logic, so take it from me, a professional, there's no need to generalize your experiences there to the whole K5 population. I'd explain it to you more thoroughly, but that would require pages and pages of complicated explanation, and I just don't have the time to go into it in detail.

They say misery loves company. Ain't there something else we can share? - Steve Walsh

it seems (3.00 / 1) (#50)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 07:39:48 AM EST

it's not only a problem with the specific article or the biomedical-related articles but a rather generalised issue. It's exactly that generalised issue I'm trying to discuss here and not make an article out of strong feelings for a couple of comments in another K5 story.

There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
are you arguing with me??!!? (2.00 / 1) (#58)
by speek on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 01:50:29 PM EST

Maybe you didn't get the point. I'll spell it out for you:

You: Amateur
Me: Professional

All kidding aside, this article was prompted by localroger's wild theories on the brain/mind in the autism story, no? Yet, reading that thread - it's a very good thread to read. It's got great discussion, and localroger isn't being unreasonable. He's listening and responding. His conclusions might not be sanctioned by you and iGrrl, but that's not the problem. It would be a problem if your article here curtailed people's questioning.

They say misery loves company. Ain't there something else we can share? - Steve Walsh
[ Parent ]

I can see up your nose... (none / 0) (#54)
by tuxedo-steve on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 12:34:50 PM EST

... it's that high up in the air. Who's just the most important logician in the world then? Yeesh. Humility is a virtue, people! Let's try to keep the jerking off in private.

- SMJ - (It's not just a name - it's a bad aftertaste.)
[ Parent ]
irony (none / 0) (#59)
by speek on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 01:52:29 PM EST

If I could kick you under the table and roll my eyes at you, I would. Please, get with the irony here.

They say misery loves company. Ain't there something else we can share? - Steve Walsh
[ Parent ]

Oops (none / 0) (#70)
by tuxedo-steve on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 05:53:46 AM EST

I'm a fool. It was very late when I wrote that.

Please accept my apology, speek, that was out of line. Irony noted.

- SMJ - (It's not just a name - it's a bad aftertaste.)
[ Parent ]
Blind leading the blind ... (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by nr0mx on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 02:41:20 PM EST

At most, I would report my "outsider's impressions and thoughts" and would take most seriously any corrections from a person that admittedly knows quite a lot more on the issue.

Firstly, what kind of proof would it take to make a person admittedly more knowledgeable ? The topics covered within a typical K5 month are so varied that only a walking-talking encyclopedia could be some sort of expert on more than a few topics. And you and me, the readers, lack the elementary knowledge of the topic to even know who the experts are. Given this state of affairs, what can you expect ?.

I disagree (5.00 / 2) (#49)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 07:34:08 AM EST

The usual K5 article does not require much of deep knowledge of any kind. As a matter of fact, the actual article about autism did not either. But when the discussion went into the intricacies of searching for a plausable cause to explain the results the article refered to, you need some technical background to back up suppositions and arguements. That is, you don't need to be a lawyer to state your opinion over a law but when the discussion leads to the intricacies of the legal system you'd better read some basics before debating.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
I'd strongly recommend (3.00 / 7) (#31)
by medham on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 02:49:00 PM EST

The work of Jerry Fodor, particularly his trenchant "Let Your Brain Alone," as a useful corrective to this sort of lab assistant hubris.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

I don't like his statement about the space program (none / 0) (#52)
by Fon2d2 on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 10:56:47 AM EST

I happen to believe strongly in the importance of the space program and I find his remark tactless and off-color.  He may not believe in the importance of the space program but that doesn't mean people like myself support it because it is capital intensive, as he implies.

[ Parent ]
You should read (4.50 / 2) (#35)
by Fon2d2 on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 04:37:03 PM EST

The Defense of Socrates

Your point is well stated.  Unfortunately it is overstated.  It could be greatly reduced and at the same time become much more general and encompassing, but at that point it would barely constitute a submission.  People with good learning and thinking skills already know these things.  People without them probably do not feel them worthwhile.  So unless you're presenting this topic as a philosophical article on the nature of learning and knowledge, it's probably not getting anywhere.

That's a feature, not a bug (2.66 / 3) (#37)
by hardburn on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 05:19:39 PM EST

Being good at anything in technology requires one to absorb massive ammounts of information in a short period of time. In order to do this, you must have a certain faith in your own ability to learn a completely new subject matter.

Maybe it's true that we should confine this ability to our feild (or at least admit it, ala "IANAL"), if only for the benifit of people who don't know any better. However, we should recognize this ability as a survival trait for our field. Thus, we can no more get rid of it any more than we can cut off our arms.

At least, not until the brain implants arrive.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

Your GEEK PRIDE has been detected (4.71 / 7) (#39)
by WildDonkey on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 06:36:39 PM EST

Being good at anything in technology requires one to absorb massive ammounts of information in a short period of time. In order to do this, you must have a certain faith in your own ability to learn a completely new subject matter.

This is just nonsense. You don't need to absorb masses of information in a short period of time. It's what you know that's important, not how fast you learned it.

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that "techies" are "special". We are not. Nothing worse than a programmer with a "I'm special and different" axe to grind in the workplace.

For someone so intelligent, your spelling sucks. Try absorbing a dictionary.

[ Parent ]

Buy that man a pint:) (4.50 / 2) (#46)
by Merekat on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 05:15:41 AM EST

You seem to be under the mistaken impression that "techies" are "special". We are not.

Agreed 100%. Some very special people are techies but not all techies are special. Some seem to be actually incapable of doing what the previous poster said was a particularly valuable skill and absorb information - they need to be spoonfed and in some cases still only selectively learn. Just like anybody else.

Speaking personally, before moving into tech, I cut my information gathering, analysis and absorbing teeth on a medieval history degree and I'm not about to claim that historians have a monopoly on information. In fact, if there is a job or role in society out there that doesn't rely on those exact skills, I'd love to know what it is, because I can't think of one:)
I've always had the greatest respect for other peoples crack-pot beliefs.
- Sam the Eagle, The Muppet Show
[ Parent ]

Would you like fries with that? (n/t) (none / 0) (#55)
by tuxedo-steve on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 12:38:20 PM EST

- SMJ - (It's not just a name - it's a bad aftertaste.)
[ Parent ]
I'll bite (none / 0) (#68)
by Merekat on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 04:12:56 AM EST

Since it was something I did as a student job.

Frequently, with little or no support, you have to familiarise yourself with Health & Safety, internal company procedure, food hygiene, customer service (which is trickier than it sounds - I'm sure everyone knows someone they wouldn't let near clients in a million years), employment law (because in less reputable places, the company certainly isn't going to tell you), not even getting to the food assembly part which usually has to be done in a very particular way.

That's not even including incidentals like working out which of your management are sane:)

Try again.
I've always had the greatest respect for other peoples crack-pot beliefs.
- Sam the Eagle, The Muppet Show
[ Parent ]

lalala, everybody's special, lalala (1.00 / 2) (#51)
by hardburn on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 10:00:54 AM EST

<MR-ROGERS>Everybody's special</MR-ROGERS>

Like the shockingly calm man said, we're all special. Techies are just special in this specific way. Scientific endeavors in general require a high reading rate, and IT fields are just a subset of that. Physicists don't spend most of their time smacking particles at each other at high speed and seeing what comes out. For every particle that hits another in those big expensive particle marry-go-rounds, hundreds of pages of data are turned out.

How many times have you heard a techie chug down a novel in just a few days or less? The mouths of Liberal Arts majors might hit the floor at it, but it's common practice among geeks.

You can accuse me of "Geek Pride" if you want. I will be happy to listen to any specific arguments you have.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

[ Parent ]
"I'm just so much more intelligent..." (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by phylum on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 12:51:39 PM EST

<SNIPE>How many times have you heard a techie chug down a novel in just a few days or less? The mouths of Liberal Arts majors might hit the floor at it, but it's common practice among geeks.</SNIPE>

Grin. And what of us who are both geeks, and Liberal Arts majors, Fallacy-of-False-Alternatives-Boy? Believe it or not, it's not against the laws of either God or man to have both a CCIE and an M.A. in English Literature (or some other technical/non-technical abilities) -- and many, many people do. Outside of software developers (who comprise only part of the IT field), in my experience at least half the IT industry is filled with people whose formal education lies in liberal arts programs such as history, languages, art and communication.

But back to the original argument, your first post suggests that we should always apply critical thinking to what we read. I agree. But there is a point at which the weight assigned to the opinion of a person who has studied the field must outweigh an ignorant or less educated opinion. This is the problem the original thread poster revealed, and it's very valid. I respect that some people can write tight C++ code, but that doesn't lend one iota of creedence to their expositions on the nature of the universe (unless, of course, they also happen to have a significant degree of training in the field of cosmology).

The fact is, writing software, integrating systems, managing databases, and/or any other techie geek function (just like almost every other job) is nothing really special. It's learned behavior, and doesn't really require a specific degree or an über-chromosome to be competent. However, there are special individuals in every field that are truly gifted -- I may someday study cosmology, but I'll never be Stephen Hawking. Similarly, some specific techie geeks are truly brilliant (Alan Cox and Vint Cerf come to mind), but in no way does that brilliance transfer to the rest of us simply because some others in our field do really complex and brilliant stuff.

Of course, some people just can't stand the concept of going through life without being associated with the Radiant Light of GeniusTM (in my personal experience, I frequently find these people to be the children of academics), and so they insist on defining whatever they do as requiring some arcane skill that few others possess.


[ Parent ]

Gotta suck it down (none / 0) (#60)
by hardburn on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 02:11:43 PM EST

Believe it or not, it's not against the laws of either God or man to have both a CCIE and an M.A. in English Literature . . .

Can't take a joke? :)

But there is a point at which the weight assigned to the opinion of a person who has studied the field must outweigh an ignorant or less educated opinion.

Agree. My orginal post was to say that this high absorbtion rate of information is a necessity in this field, and a certain faith in your own ability to learn must be maintained to keep this rate high. For better or for worse, computer geeks tend to let this belief spill into fields where they have no real training, formal or otherwise.

OTOH, many geeks *do* have their knowledge spread among many diffrent fields. For example, most computer geeks will at least know more about Physics than the average high school graduate would.

As Slashdot shows, this behavior often gets out of control, but geeks have been known to be self-policing at times. A good example (which I brought out in my first post) is "IANAL". These days, techies have been forced to understand legal issues, especially about the various intellectual property laws, but they also recognize that this basic knowledge is no substitute for talking to a real lawyer.

Even so, some geeks have been known to gain incrediable depth of legal knowledge when the circumstances required it. When Knight Lighting (former editor of Phrack) went to trial in the early 1990's, his lawyers were reportedly quite impressed with his ability to go through the obscure legal problems in the case. According to the book "The Hacker Crackdown", he even decided to go to law school after his case was over (though I'm not sure what happened later).

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

[ Parent ]
Loss of My Humor Gene (none / 0) (#65)
by phylum on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 05:48:03 PM EST

Can't take a joke? :)

We liberal arts majors who decided to pursue geek careers don't have senses of humor. We had to get rid of them to make room all that horribly complex computer stuff. :P

OTOH, many geeks *do* have their knowledge spread among many diffrent [sic] fields.

In my experience, that's very true. However, this is not an exclusive property of geeks, whether they be IT people, physicists, mathematicians, or chemists. Many people, regardless of their "official" profession, can do this. Look at how quickly good attorneys can pick up complex and diverse subjects when required. Most intellectual property lawyers know more about the history of computers than you and I put together. As another example, a good journalist can become a relative expert on just about any subject in a short period of time. The same can be said for marketing people and sales people (as much as geeks generally like to write off marketing and sales people as complete idiots, the fact is, very few geeks could do these jobs competently). In short, it's a complete myth that the "ability to know lots of different and disparate stuff" is the exclusive domain of geeks and/or scientists.


[ Parent ]

IANAL: Symptom of geek pride (none / 0) (#71)
by WildDonkey on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 06:59:35 AM EST

It does not matter whether someone is a lawyer or not. What matters is whether they know the facts of the subject they are talking about or not.

Appending or prepeding "IANAL" to what you say is just an excuse to peddle an opinion on a matter of law not fully backed up by fact, experience or knowledge and to cover your back if someone who really does have a clue points it out as utterly wrong, cueing the excuse "well i did say IANAL".

As the original article pointed it, it seems to be an unfortunate feature of "geekdom" that so many seem to consider their opinions, on matters with which they are not really familiar with, as in some way authoritative, or at least having some uber-validity which raises it above the status of mere opinion.

[ Parent ]

. . . but in the real world . . . (none / 0) (#72)
by hardburn on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 10:08:26 AM EST

The problem is that today's environment requires geeks to understand complex legal issues. I, for one, would be perfectly happy if I could write code without worrying that I was stepping on a 15 year-old, overly broad patent owned by a really large company with well-paid lawyers. I don't like to admit it very often, but I actually do live in the real world, and I have to understand these issues.

At the same time, I also recognize that I've never been to law school, and have no particular urgings to attend one in the near future. When I'm working on a Free Software project that might touch on a nasty legal issue that I know something about, should I just keep my fingers from typeing that e-mail and keep my fellow developers in the dark? No way. I'll write my opinion, stick an "IANAL" at the end, and hit "send".

Have you noticed that real lawyers use this same principle? I've talked to real lawyers over the Internet before, and they always start their answers with "my advice here is no substitue for talking with a lawyer in person" or something similar. A bit more explicit than "IANAL", but the idea is the same. Talking with a lawyer in person will help them to understand your specific circumstances. Additionally, a paid lawyer can be given priviledged information and you have (at least in the US) a few centuries of precedant that insures that information stays confidential--an assurance you don't have over the Internet.

while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }

[ Parent ]
Physicists used to (3.50 / 2) (#38)
by grumbuskin on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 05:40:45 PM EST

do it all the time. Look up what Feynman said about biologists in his autobiography - I think in the second volume. If you think geeks are the worst at the moment, try talking to molecular biologists about anything.

"Expert" is a misnomer (4.66 / 6) (#40)
by kholmes on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 06:42:04 PM EST

I'm not disagreeing with you, but I'm not really agreeing with you either. I'm somewhat of an intellectual optimist and we all know that relying upon the authority of the expert is on our list of fallacies.

It seems to me that if you want to learn things you need the basic skills of critical thinking, something I know my high school tried, but failed, to instill into its student population. Among these skills are the ability to think clearly and an intuition for logic.

If you have these skills, then the following will be much easier for you. If you really want to learn about autism, go to the library or perform the research yourself. Given how much easier and inexpensive the former is, you'd probably want to give it a go first.

Yet when you end up at the library, you have stumbled upon the same problem. All these books on autism and some of them aren't any better than the comments you are complaining about. But the resolution is simple, be critical of what you read--everywhere. Ask yourself if this guy is making sense.

Most importantly, especially in anything having to do with social science, don't let someone quote some study to you--read the study yourself. Because in the end, that's what you're after: Facts, not somone's opinion.

Now, there are severe problems with this method. First is, are you misinterpreting what you read? We'll get to that later. But the second problem is that a lot of information isn't available to your average Joe. Such as the studies themselves--most often, studies aren't even cited in a way that you can reference them. So you're left with hailing the author as an expert and that his opinion is obviously the correct one. Sorry, some sarcasm there, I won't do it again.

But are you misinterpreting what you are reading? This is a critical question in my mind. In many professions, there is a certain amount of information that those who have gone through the rigorous schooling and training consider as "common knowledge" in their profession. And this information will almost always be implicit in any study or book you read in the field, unless the book is geared toward the average Joe. But this is the only valid role for the expert in my mind, to help us come to the right conclusions. The true expert is not someone who tells us what the answer is but rather helps us find it.

So to put this in context, our discussions on Kuro5hin I believe are invaluable. The great thing is that some of the time, most of us have our critical thinking caps on. While it would be folly to take our caps off to any commenter in this forum, it would be just as folly to remove our caps for any expert. But if we get the wrong idea on any subject or topic, then I don't think we have anyone else but ourselves to blame.

If you treat people as most people treat things and treat things as most people treat people, you might be a Randian.

And a 3rd problem (4.33 / 3) (#43)
by pyramid termite on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:49:32 PM EST

First is, are you misinterpreting what you read? We'll get to that later. But the second problem is that a lot of information isn't available to your average Joe. Such as the studies themselves--most often, studies aren't even cited in a way that you can reference them.

A 3rd problem is that often the studies in question can be written by people who have their own axes to grind, or are being paid by others to grind them - the global warming debate comes to mind. A classic example of this is those tobacco company scientists who swear up and down, "No, sir, there's no scientific proof tobacco causes cancer, those studies have flaws ..." Well, what's a person to think when two sides to a question have their experts lined up and paid for to say the things that certain people want them to say?

This is only going to get worse - some people care more about WINNING than they do about knowing the truth.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
take a look at the poll... (4.50 / 2) (#48)
by KiTaSuMbA on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 07:22:32 AM EST

It seems that most of the K5ers, including myself, agree that a "non-expert" should have his say anyway. The problem is not that someone might want to post his ideas without being an "expert" on the field but that some people insist on their misinformed opinions no matter how many times you try to clear things out.
You say that technical information is hard to come by for the average Joe. That's only natural. Knowledge on any issue is built in a "ladder," layers of increasing complexity. I don't think anyone would dare criticising this or that aspect of the linux kernel scheduler without knowing first what a "system call" means although he should feel free to tell his own impression (like "I think we could make use of an improvement here".)
K5 is basically for the average Joes. If we could, in some manner, exclude them from posting on this or that issue they have no expertise for, K5 would become a very silent and boring place. Knowledge is supposed to be shared with everyone, average Joes included. And if our Joe is so interested in the workings underlying the deep technical issues, you correctly suggest that he should first take a look in the local library. But he shouldn't go directly for articles about autism but follow the "ladder" and check out some of the basics where he will find introductory and divulgating books to help him get a start.
The problem is not about credentials or expertise, it's about attitude.

There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]

Where did you go to high school? (5.00 / 1) (#78)
by vectro on Mon Nov 18, 2002 at 05:44:28 PM EST

I don't know about you, but my high school actively worked to beat out any critical thinking skills that may have remained in students.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
True (2.66 / 3) (#44)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 02:42:40 AM EST

I voted the autism story up to a large extent because I wanted to see all the ignorant comments. Here's the comment I wrote while it was on the queue.This wouldn't be Kuro5hin if we didn't have that.

Perhaps part of the problem is that so many K5er's are teenagers and young adults. This age group is known for their "know it all" attitude, especially among the more intellectual types.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour

You'd lose 90% of k5 stories if you're not careful (4.00 / 2) (#45)
by carlfish on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 04:13:27 AM EST

I mean, if people actually had to first obtain some expertise in the subjects they are writing about before posting to kuro5hin, we'd lose all of those highly entertaining "I'm halfway through my first-year philosophy|maths|science unit or one-week Cisco training course, so I'm going to write a beginners' guide for kuro5hin!" posts.

I'd love to see a moratorium on those bloody things. "Rule 1. Do not write a "beginners guide" to something, unless at some point, you demonstrate some knowledge higher than beginner-level yourself."

Or maybe I'm just getting picky in my old age.

Charles Miller

The more I learn about the Internet, the more amazed I am that it works at all.
storage of humans (3.00 / 2) (#61)
by Fen on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 02:19:13 PM EST

The main storage of humans is clearly infinite nonquantized storage of previous quantized input going forever back in time into the conscious entity. It is clearly silly to attempt to assign a numeric value for it.
Wowza (none / 0) (#62)
by kostya on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 02:24:27 PM EST

Sure, this is off-topic or flamebait, but I read through the comments first to see if anyone else complained about it first ...

Good Lord, break those sentences up. This isn't the Gettysburg address--and if it was, you'd at least use a tricolon!


Now to say something others have already said, purely as a way of strengthening the argument: so what? This is the internet. People are arrogant as hell out here. Did you see the GOD comments? Whew, that guy is way out there! So take him as the representative for the kooks and the crackpots. Then go read some of K5's more heated debates followed by a healthy review of USENET's greatest hits. Take that as a good representation of the usual internet discussion and the behavior of those in the discussion.

So what have you found save for the "same old same old"? Did the arrogance and flamebait of the autism story just offend you so much that you felt it deserved some sort of corrective? I mean, do you expect K5 to be some bastion of reason and sanity? If so, how long have you been reading K5? What gave you the impression that it was any different?

Now, old K5 farts like me would argue that it was different back in the day--but we are just grumpy old posters who used to be popular. You can safely ignore us and our nostalgia. K5 has always been this way.

So again, what are you seeking to do? Sway the crackpots? Calm down the flame-thrower toting hords?

Veritas otium parit. --Terence
Scientific method (none / 0) (#66)
by I am Jack's username on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 05:55:05 PM EST

My summary of the articles, of the speech given, about the paper, about the study; did the opposite of what I intended. I'm afraid rebutted theories were propped up because I didn't write the summary well enough, and because I included links about high-function autism - confusing the argument

My sentence

The increase cannot be accounted for by genetics, increased awareness, birth injuries, immunizations, misdiagnosis, and emigration only.
was obviously not emphasized enough. I was expecting rebuttals using scientific evidence, or at least extremely good arguments.

Some of the highly rated comments on slashdot were worse.

KiTaSuMbA, the reason I didn't rate your technical comments highly is because I'm ignorant of the field.

Tho, in defense of the lay commenters; from Albert Einstein:

It is not enough for a handful of experts to attempt the solution of a problem, to solve it and then to apply it. The restriction of knowledge to an elite group destroys the spirit of society and leads to its intellectual impoverishment.
Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.
The important thing is not to stop questioning.

Inoshiro for president!
"War does not determine who is right - only who is left." - Bertrand Russell
It was a good article (none / 0) (#67)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 01:00:47 AM EST

People responded how they did because you posted on K5. You did a good job with the story, though. Nothing you could have said would have changed the reaction.

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
[ Parent ]
comments (none / 0) (#69)
by KiTaSuMbA on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 05:09:31 AM EST

Your article was quite appropriate for K5 (not too technical or "obscure.") I don't see ways of emphasizing that phrase summarizing the results of the study other than perhaps a cursive bold which I doubt would anyhow effect the discussion that followed.
Regarding your non-rating my comments: you did perfectly well and that's one of the points. Rating comments simply because they look complicated and technical without having a clue on the contents would do a lot more wrong than help. I also feel oblidged to stress that the current article is not intended as a "rant" for not being "applauded" in the sense of high ratings and increased mojo in the autism story (what kind of egomaniac would that be?) nor is it about that sole article.
Being a "meta" article is intended to the whole K5 community as an invitation and request - no more, no less.
Regarding the lay commenters in general, I have to agree with you as most of the voters in the poll do: elitism is throwing knowledge down the drain as well.
There is no Dopaminergic Pepperoni Kabal!
[ Parent ]
So this is why my ears have been burning (3.00 / 1) (#76)
by localroger on Sun Nov 03, 2002 at 03:24:49 PM EST

Spend a week somewhere where there is no Internet access, come back and find something like this. Sheesh.

There is a lot here that is not stated, but rather read into, my comments in the autism thread. (We can admit this was directed at me, right?) In case anyone is still reading this let me make a few points.

1. I have not at any time passed myself off as a credentialed biologist. Quite the opposite, I usually open up such rants by stating my background.

2. Credentialed experts in complicated fields have often been glaringly wrong about fundamental things, and have remained wrong for generations. Things universally taken for granted now, such as (a) K-T asteroid, (b) continental drift, (c) planetary orbital shift over geological time have all been considered tinfoil hat nutbag ideas within my own lifetime.

3. I have never said the brain works like a computer. Here is a fundamental misunderstanding of both my and a lot of other peoples' ideas:

What I see is a series of unfortunate analogies and metaphors of biological processes to computer / software-related mechanisms and technologies and a strong conviction that biological processes are deterministic ones that can be described, analyzed and controlled by an adequate number of equations and logical statements (mostly in the form of "if-then-else".)

This is two statements that have nothing to do with one another, connected to create a misconception. First of all, all processes within the material universe are deterministic. That is physics, not biology, and to state anything else is a quite unscientifically religious assertion. (Incidentally, I am not closed myself to these unscientifically religious ideas, but I recognize that they are not science.)

However, the fact that the universe is deterministic does not mean it is predictable by equations, formulae, algorithms, or any other such system simpler than the system in question itself. This is mathematics, not biology -- specifically, chaos theory.

Now if I seem at times to have contempt for people in fields like biology and psychiatry, crap like this is one of the main reasons. You assert a fundamental misunderstanding of physics and mathematics -- fields which are in no way as fuzzy and hard to pin down as biology is -- and use this misunderstanding to accuse people who do know what they are talking about in those fields of not being schooled in your own. Pot, kettle, black.

4. As for the world's most amazing hard drive, I would never make such a simplistic argument; but such measurements are meaningful and need to be examined. Nobody on the genetics side of the argument has ever been able to coherently explain how it is that 7 gigabytes of genome can wire 10^14 interconnections in a fine enough manner to make small modifications possible. This is a very reasonable question which has nothing to do with theories of consciousness of network topologies or whatever else your beef is, because none of that matters; the wiring occurs, by definition it contains information, so where does the information come from? I think it comes from the same place the bug picture does in the Mandelbrot Fractal, and that's not a very unreasonable assumption. But it flies in the face of everything people want to believe about eugenics.

Of course, nobody wanted to believe that the continents and planets move around or that space rocks periodically sterilize large parts of the Earth. The people who didn't want to believe those things were wrong. Some of us would prefer not to repeat their mistake.

I can haz blog!

"Geek Pride" misunderstandings... | 78 comments (60 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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