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Education Science

Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas 828

Posted by Zonk
from the smart-does-not-mean-sensible dept.
CHESTER COPPERPOT writes "Scott Berkun writes an interesting essay on 'Why smart people defend bad ideas'. He states a number of interesting highlights on smart people and dumb ideas. From the article: 'In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level is a team of rock star programmers who can make anything, but don't really know what to make: so they tend to build whatever things come to mind, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied.'."
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Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:49PM (#12667592)
    Tom Smykowski: It's a "Jump to Conclusions Mat". You see, you have this mat, with different CONCLUSIONS written on it that you could JUMP TO.
    Michael Bolton: That is the worst idea I've ever heard.
    Samir: Yes, this is horrible, this idea.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:49PM (#12667597)
    Ego.
    • by Leroy_Brown242 (683141) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:53PM (#12667615) Homepage Journal
      Many-a-geek has made the mistake of getting behind an idea that was bad, but didn't have the humility to change sides or admit mistake.

      Not just geeks do this, of course.
  • Jukebox guy (Score:5, Funny)

    by AntiPasto (168263) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:50PM (#12667602) Journal
    I knew a guy that programmed a music "jukebox" ... didn't have the heart to tell him that at most parties I went to the people just had a winamp and a folder open.
    • Re:Jukebox guy (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ciroknight (601098) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:01PM (#12667661)
      Yeah, I had a friend that did the same thing.. and I didn't have the heart to say a word.

      He's currently working for Apple pulling in a quarter million a year, while I sit here in Engineering school.
    • Re:Jukebox guy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dgatwood (11270)
      I programmed a music jukebox once... except that what started as a mechanism for triggering mpg123 with a reasonable random scheme changed over the course of about two years into a radio station automation app....

      Just because something starts out seeming uninteresting, that doesn't necessarily mean that it will end up being useless. And even if the project doesn't go anywhere, the experience you gain in writing it can end up serving you down the line, whether through code reuse or just through gaining a

  • by Capt'n Hector (650760) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:51PM (#12667608)
    There are a lot of people who can literally do ANYTHING, and partly because of this they end up doing NOTHING. Kind of like a horse caught between two bales of hay.
    • by Scrameustache (459504) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:59PM (#12667647) Homepage Journal
      There are a lot of people who can literally do ANYTHING, and partly because of this they end up doing NOTHING.

      Well, I feel less guilty about my slackerism now, thanks! : )
    • Backwards! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:06PM (#12667689) Homepage Journal
      You're describing somebody who is so afraid of making a bad decision, they can't make any. TFA describes pretty much the opposite problem: being unfraid to risk a bad decision, but never being able to admit that it was bad.
    • by ciroknight (601098) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:10PM (#12667709)
      Isn't that what they feed everyone in school; "You can do anything if you just put your mind to it"?

      In my younger years, I took this to mean "Do everything, because you can". Now that I'm in college, that entire lesson was bunk, and now I'm stuck with a bunch of what I'd consider useless knowledge.

      The "Pretender" gene, as I often call it (after the TV series) is something a lot of us are blessed/cursed with. We have the ability to sit down at a computer and code anything, then get up, walk into a garage or workshop, pick up a hammer and build something, then go to a rally and speak about how you can change the world if your party will support you.

      The problem with it is futility. Others like me, myself included, find it futile at times to do anything, since we've done everything we're interested in doing. Us general-purpose, disposable task people have to cast ourselves into single purpose, repetitive task people, and that's really hard for us, in college, and in life.

      Sadly, I don't see an easy solution. Except I won't be telling my children that "They can do anything". I'll tell them "you can do something. but it's up to you to choose what that something is."
      • by Scrameustache (459504) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:34AM (#12668124) Homepage Journal
        In my younger years, I took this to mean "Do everything, because you can". Now that I'm in college, that entire lesson was bunk, and now I'm stuck with a bunch of what I'd consider useless knowledge.
        [...] something a lot of us are blessed/cursed with [...]
        The problem with it is futility [...]
        Sadly, I don't see an easy solution.


        In art, it's known as the "white page syndrome".
        You have a clean, white canvas, on it your talents enable you to paint anything. So you sit there, awash in the mental miasma of the endless possibilities assailing you.

        The way I deal with it is to stop thinking and draw a random line, then based on what this restricts the possibilities to, I can build around it.

        And the use I found for my "useless" knowledge is to wait for the conditions under which it will become usefull.
        Maybe you'll be at a job interview and you'll have knowledge of something the interviewer is passionate about: Bang, you have the edge, you get chosen over the other equally qualified applicants.

        My knowledge of all-around trivia actually became usefull when I was employed in a company that did some localisation work, it wasn't what I did there, but whenever the translators were faced with a subject they were unfamiliar with, they came to me. The kids in highschool were hostile to me for being a know-it-all, but at that job it made me quite popular.

        Off course, I still feel this... lassitude, sometimes. I haven't found an easy solution, but since in a hundred years' time we'll all be dead, we might as well be ourselves while we can : )
      • by Chazmati (214538) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:49AM (#12668189)
        A friend of mine was taught a nifty lesson from her parents. It's in the vein of your "You can do anything..." quote, but maybe more apt, with a minor change.

        The quote was "You can have anything you want--but you can't have everything you want."

        Substitute "do" for "have" and booya!
      • The point of this phrase is not "you can do everything without trying", but "you are capable of achieving any (one) thing, if you focus on succeeding"

        I've seen enough talentless but driven people succeed to realize that talent and skills are gifts, but you gotta use 'em properly to get maximum benefit from them.
      • The problem with it is futility. Others like me, myself included, find it futile at times to do anything, since we've done everything we're interested in doing. Us general-purpose, disposable task people have to cast ourselves into single purpose, repetitive task people, and that's really hard for us, in college, and in life.

        Why not use your talents to alleviate human suffering? At least that has value.

    • That would be Buridan's Ass [blogspot.com] between two piles of hay.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:54PM (#12667620)
    Why smart people defend bad ideas

    By Scott Berkun, April 2005

    We all know someone that's intelligent, but who occasionally defends obviously bad ideas. Why does this happen? How can smart people take up positions that defy any reasonable logic? Having spent many years working with smart people I've catalogued many of the ways this happens, and I have advice on what to do about it. I feel qualified to write this essay as I'm a recovering smart person myself and I've defended several very bad ideas. So if nothing else this essay serves as a kind of personal therapy session. However, I fully suspect you'll get more than just entertainment value (Look, Scott is stupider than we thought!) out of what I have to say on this topic.
    Success at defending bad ideas

    The monty python argument sketchI'm not proud to admit that I have a degree in Logic and Computation from Carnegie Mellon University. Majoring in logic is not the kind of thing that makes people want to talk to you at parties, or read your essays. But one thing I did learn after years of studying advanced logic theory is that proficiency in argument can easily be used to overpower others, even when you are dead wrong. If you learn a few tricks of logic and debate, you can refute the obvious, and defend the ridiculous. If the people you're arguing with aren't as comfortable in the tactics of argument, or aren't as arrogant as you are, they may even give in and agree with you.

    The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they're wrong. This is bad. Worse, if they got away with it when they were young (say, because they were smarter than their parents, their friends, and their parent's friends) they've probably built an ego around being right, and will therefore defend their perfect record of invented righteousness to the death. Smart people often fall into the trap of preferring to be right even if it's based in delusion, or results in them, or their loved ones, becoming miserable. (Somewhere in your town there is a row of graves at the cemetery, called smartypants lane, filled with people who were buried at poorly attended funerals, whose headstones say Well, at least I was right.)

    Until they come face to face with someone who is tenacious enough to dissect their logic, and resilient enough to endure the thinly veiled intellectual abuse they dish out during debate (e.g. You don't really think that do you? or Well if you knew the rule/law/corollary you wouldn't say such things), they're never forced to question their ability to defend bad ideas. Opportunities for this are rare: a new boss, a new co-worker, a new spouse. But if their obsessive-ness about being right is strong enough, they'll reject those people out of hand before they question their own biases and self-manipulations. It can be easier for smart people who have a habit of defending bad ideas to change jobs, spouses, or cities rather than honestly examine what is at the core of their psyche (and often, their misery).

    Short of obtaining a degree in logic, or studying the nuances of debate, remember this one simple rule for defusing those who are skilled at defending bad ideas: Simply because they cannot be proven wrong, does not make them right. Most of the tricks of logic and debate refute questions and attacks, but fail to establish any true justification for a given idea.

    For example, just because you can't prove that I'm not the king of France reincarnated doesn't make it so. So when someone tells you "My plan A is the best because no one has explained how it will fail" know that there is a logical gap in this argument. Simply because no one has described how it will fail, doesn't necessarily make it the best plan. It's possible than plans B, C, D and E all have the same quality, or that the reason no one has described how A will fail is that no one has had more than 30 seconds to scrutinize the plan. As we'll discuss later, diffusing bad thinking requires someone (probab
  • by Kipsaysso (828105) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:55PM (#12667625) Homepage Journal
    Slashdot
  • by halcyon1234 (834388) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:57PM (#12667637) Journal
    Us smart folk have great ideas! Wonderful ideas!

    Like that time everyone wanted to give a multi-billion dollar corporation hundreds of millions of dollars to make another season of a mediocre TV show. That was a great idea, wasn't it?

    Oh, and then there was the tens of thousands of dallars they gave to that guy who ran a copyright-material-file-trading-site. That turned out smashingly well.

    And-- umm--- hrm.

    {pause}

    ............ good article.

  • by SengirV (203400) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:58PM (#12667645)
    Insert GOP/DNC joke here.
  • well... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by hsmith (818216) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @10:58PM (#12667646)
    a lot of it has to do with ego, and a lot of it has to do with committing to something and saying "this is what we are going with"

    some people invest a lot of time into ideas and when they see their ideas threatened, they throw up the defense like no other. it transends programming all the way up to world politics.

    i am guilty of it, but i have gotten better at admiting my mistakes and using it as something to build upon. it takes a lot to realize when you are at fault and you fucked up.
  • INTP (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:00PM (#12667653)
    IMO people that can do ANYTHING are likely
    an INTP http://www.intp.org/intprofile.html [intp.org] personality type. This would explain why they don't always produce much. Merely proving to themselves that they CAN do it is quite enough.
  • References (Score:4, Informative)

    by Thu25245 (801369) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:01PM (#12667660)

    - Difficult conversations, a book about confronting people in tough situations.
    - The argument clinic, Monty Python (If you've never seen it, watch it before reading this script. It's in the 3rd season, disc 9 of the boxed set). Also see the splunge scene in episode 6.
    - Games people play, Eric Byrne. A book on transactional analyis: a model for why people behave as they do in certain situations.
    - The informed argument, Robert Miller. Textbook style coverage of both proper and unfair argument tactics.
    - With good reason, Morris Engel. a short summary of common logic manipulations, explained with a sense of humor (over a dozen cartoons).
    - Why smart people can be so stupid, Salon.com

    Best. Citation. Ever.
  • by Grey Ninja (739021) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:02PM (#12667662) Homepage Journal
    It's simple. Everyone can have dumb ideas. It's our god given right. And if you think that you are going to pry them from our cold dead fingers, you have another think coming. We can come up with all the bad ideas that we want, and we STILL have more good ideas than the less fortunate. So I say LEAVE US ALONE!
  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:03PM (#12667669)
    considered smart?

    Probably because they did well in school. But school (at least in the US) wasn't designed to teach people to think, but to teach them to memorize facts and follow directions.
    • Smart people make bad decisions too, unless "smart" means "perfect" these days.
    • by norton_I (64015) <hobbes@utrek.dhs.org> on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:49AM (#12668188)
      I found the article somewhat less than compelling, but the question is almost the right one. Smart people do dumb things because they are human -- a species possed of both remarkable logical abilities and considerable instict, but with less ability to tell the two apart than we imagine.

      Everyone has a large set of preconceived notions that form the basis for our understanding of the world. In general, some of these notions will be correct, others incorrect, and some of them will be contradictory. Smart people have these, too, but when confronted with a contradiction are more likely/able to go back and examine all of the assumptions to find out which ones are false, or less widely applicable than previously believed. Even smarter people will do this proactivly -- looking for assumptions they hold that may be untenable.

      The real question (to be fair, also the question the author attempted to answer) is not why smart people defend stupid ideas, but how do we (smart or no) recognize when we are defending stupid ideas and fix it.

      Unfortunately, what the author really addressed is people who don't recognize that they have weaknesses. Those people usually aren't smart. Those are probably people who, as you said, did well in all of their subjects in school.
    • But school (at least in the US) wasn't designed to teach people to think, but to teach them to memorize facts

      Where in the US did you go to school? In my experience in college, the foriegn students all have facts memorized long enough to repeat them on the test but have no idea what to do with them. It's the American kids who don't know anything practical and get lousy grades on repeat-it-back-tests but have all kinds of ideas.
  • by mothlos (832302) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:04PM (#12667679)
    There are lots of very capable coders out there who make excelent code for other techies, but for this very reason the UI often sucks. The individualism and "if you don't like it, fix the code yourself" attitude of many open source projects means that people who aren't code junkies, but are excelent at understanding what a user might want get excluded from the process far too often.
    • by Shadowlore (10860) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:56PM (#12667955) Journal
      There are lots of very capable coders out there who make excelent code for other techies, but for this very reason the UI often sucks.

      I write apps for techies and I write apps for non-techies. The UIs and requirements are very different. Apps written for techies and accepted by techies is not proprly judged by non-techies, and vica versa. The arrogance is found in the people in both camps who insist that UI should fit their camp when it was written for the other camp.

      If I write an app for techies and they like it, there is nothing "wrong" with it. Often, "techie" interfaces are aimed at functionality, not "point click drool". Thus any remarks about it being ugly are simply irrelevant.

      The individualism and "if you don't like it, fix the code yourself" attitude of many open source projects means that people who aren't code junkies, but are excelent at understanding what a user might want get excluded from the process far too often.

      And if they aren't the "target market" of the code author(s) that is just fine. Quite frankly much of the apps I write are not intended for end-user non-technical people and I don't care if they don't like it. Nor should I. Making it pretty will NOT enhance my market in the slightest, it will only pollute it. The same goes for end-user non-technical apps I write.

      And finally, there is the "you get what you pay for" comment. Most open soruce apps are done for free. As such, Joe EndUser has no right to be "included" in the process.

      Now to tie it all up with the favorite computer analogy: cars. GM (for example) sells cars. They sell cars for the enduser, and cars for the techie. Most people are familiar with the first category. But they also sell race-only versions of some of their cars, such as the C5R or upcoming C6R. The general public has zero input into these models, as it should be. Other companies also make race cars. These are oriented around a specific purpose.

      The Mosler for example is a race-oriented car. Sure you can drive it on the street (and end user could buy and drive one), but it is aimed at being a performance auto for the track. It is the "code written by geeks for geeks" side.

      Then you have the minivans and sedans, for example. They are built for the general consumer (the end user w/o technical skills). Sure a racer can drive one, even adapt it for racing (tens of thousands of Americans do this every year), but as a racer their input is not part of the design process or feature list. Witness the near-universal elimination of options like radio-delete and ac-delete.

      IMO, nearly all these rants about ugly yet functional interfaces versus pretty but reduced functionality but pretty shiney interface fall under the categories above. Everybody wants a hand-built Ferrari for the price of a 10 year old wrecked and stripped Geo Metro. And they blame the "industry" for them not getting it.
      • Sorry, but I'm going to have to go ahead and disagree with the bulk of your post. It's attitudes like this that make me hate using Windows and Linux for day-to-day work (I use my Mac and Mac OS X for my day-to-day work, but work with Windows and Linux systems as required/appropriate for work, school, and other projects).

        Joel Spolsky [joelonsoftware.com] has a book out called User Interface Design for Programmers. In it, he makes a point of telling a story about a company that set out to design kitchen utensils for arthritic people (I want to say Oxo, but that could be completely wrong, and I don't have the book in front of me to check). The target market was people who couldn't grip a handle as tightly as you or I might be able to, so the utensils were designed with rubbery handles that were easy to hold onto and wouldn't slip, and that were large enough to grip comfortably. As it turns out, these utensils were a huge hit not only with the target market, but also with everyday users: they found the utensils easy to use as well, and the company took off.

        The point of this story is twofold: first, you never know who your target market really is until the product is out in the world. You may find that your intended target just isn't interested in your product, or that some group you overlooked while doing market research finds your product by accident, gives it a chance, and loves it.

        Secondly, and MUCH more importantly, is the notion that by designing something that is easy for a certain group of people to use, you end up making it easier for everyone to use. Everyone wins.

        I consider myself a pretty advanced user (undergrad degree in Computer Science, graduate degree in Comp. Sci. in progress, etc., etc). I use Linux on my PCs and on servers because of the flexibility it provides me. That doesn't, however, that I don't like to have that flexibility hidden from me behind a complex or non-intuitive interface. Consider, for a moment, a program that has a couple dozen options that are binary (yes/no), so that they can be all be chosen by simple checkboxes in a GUI. At first glance, you might think that I would like to have all those options in a single "Options" dialog box. After all, there all the options would then be presented in a single window and I could, in theory, find what I wanted to change quickly and easily. But how do I have to find that option I'm looking for? I have to start going through the options one by one until I find it. And if what I want is at the end of the list, I just wasted a lot of time and got a little annoyed (multiply that annoyance by every time I need to go through this). But what if I arrange the options by, say, function. All the file-related options in one group, all the text-related options in another, all the shortcut-related options in another. Take that a step further, and move each group to its own preference window or tab. Give each section a simple, descriptive name. Boom. You've just reduced the clutter, streamlined the interface, and made your users much happier. Instead of trying to search for "enable syntax highlighting" amongst dozens of checkboxes, I just need to select the text-related tab, scan 6-8 options, and click the checkbox. See, that wasn't so hard, now was it?

        It's people who dismiss with the wave of a hand the benefits of good user interface design that really irk me. A good user interface is not something that just happens to materialize out of thin air. Nor is it something that is really best developed by the same people who actually write the code, either. And sadly, it's the general attitudes of "if you don't like it, fix the code yourself" or "it works well for me, it should work well for everyone" that dooms so many applications. And don't even get me started on user interface conventions (I'll just say that they exist for a reason.

        /end rant
    • I always see these types of posts on slashdot, and yet I never see this actually happen.

      I'm a KDE developer and see many of the processes that go on. We have a kde-usability group with many members and a high volume of traffic. Daily I see long email threads by the developers and users discussing back and forth ideas.

      We have many usability requests filed as bug on our easy to use bug reporting system (from the web bugs.kde.org or from any app Help->Report Bug) and most such bugs are closed quickly.
  • by ucblockhead (63650) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:10PM (#12667707) Homepage Journal
    What I've often seen is that really smart people can end up being really stupid because they have not yet run into that challenge that really tests them, so they don't have the experience of having to do real intellectual work. I remember a friend in high school who sailed through everything and got a near perfect score on the SAT only to crash and burn, flunking everything his first year. He'd gotten by his entire life on quick thinking, and had never had to do any real intellectual heavy lifting and when confronted with the need, he simply did not have an practice.

    This is not to say all really smart people do this. But it is a danger among the smart who never really made themselves work.
    • Practice makes perfect. But, does a lack of practice make horrible? Quite possibly, through atrophy, or even never having done something.

      During high school, I had such a great memory for what the teacher said that I could just listen, without taking notes, and then without studying anything, get good grades on the test. Throughout college, the classes where I struggled extremely were the ones in which I was expected to learn certain things outside of class. In those classes, since I had no practice of stud
  • by ShatteredDream (636520) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:15PM (#12667734) Homepage
    is when people who are very intelligent compared to the rest of the public think they know it all. I think there is probably nothing worse than arguing with someone who thinks that because they are brilliant in one area that they are now all of a sudden uniquely qualified to render an opinion in all areas.
  • by markx16 (214251) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:16PM (#12667739)
    I think the issue at hand is that many people confuse leadership ability with skill. Being a good programmer doesn't necessarily make you a good project manager, nor is the best manager also the best coder. It's sometimes the case, and certainly some very skilled people successfully rise into management because their skill translates into seeing the big picture and hence being a good manager.

    But not all really skilled people see the big picture, and that's when ego kicks in. They can't stand taking orders from somebody less skilled than them. People complain about pointy-headed PHB's with no skills getting paid more that them, but the reality is that having 20 coders is a waste if they lack direction, and ideally, that's what the PHB is there for.

    Whether the PHB is actually effective is another story. Leadership is a nebulous thing and much harder to quantify and identify than skill - hence the embarrasing examples that slip through the cracks.
  • by Scrameustache (459504) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:21PM (#12667758) Homepage Journal
    The problem with smart people is that they like to be right and sometimes will defend ideas to the death rather than admit they're wrong.

    I've known smart people like that.
    And fantastically dumb people like that.

    I've had someone argue that the queen of England isn't rich, and get this, when I explained that she's the biggest land owner in the U.K. and she made about 27 million a year last time I checked, he argued that she isn't rich because when she dies someone else will inherit her money (unlike Bill Gates, who'll bring it with him to the afterlife?).

    Smart people just defend their insanity with more flair.
  • by cperciva (102828) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:22PM (#12667765) Homepage
    I quite deliberately confront people with, and defend, astonishingly bad ideas. (For example: "If the US government really wants to save as many lives as possible, they should give everybody two weeks' notice and then drop a nuclear bomb in the center of Jerusalem. This would destroy the largest cause of Israeli-Palestinian violence.") I do this not because I actually believe such things, but because I want to find people who are willing to contradict me and justify their positions.

    Sadly, the vast majority of people either disagree without justification, or (even more worryingly) agree without justification -- which just demonstrates how unwilling most sheep^Wpeople are to engage in thought and/or debate.
    • by Otter (3800) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:08AM (#12668011) Journal
      I quite deliberately confront people with, and defend, astonishingly bad ideas...Sadly, the vast majority of people either disagree without justification, or (even more worryingly) agree without justification -- which just demonstrates how unwilling most sheep^Wpeople are to engage in thought and/or debate.

      I think you may be confusing agreement with people who decide that you're a complete idiot (rather than a condescending nuisance), nod politely and look for an escape route. Certainly, whenever someone starts yammering to me about "sheep" (or worse, "sheeple"!), I "agree without justification" and flee as soon as an opportunity permits...

  • by AliasMoze (623272) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:22PM (#12667767)
    ...because people are not rational. We are sometimes temporarily capable of rationality, but the other 99% of the time we're ruled by subconscious forces. We arrogantly think in terms of making intelligent choices, but modern brain science is showing that decisions are an illusion, that there is only behavior, and that our behavior is out of our conscious control.

    So smart-schmart. Intelligence has nothing to do with it.
    • The fact that most people these days *do* coast along without putting much-if-any effort into conscious thought doesn't in any way show that they are incapable of doing so, or that coasting is inescapable "human nature".

      You're right. Intelligence has nothing to do with it. As long as you're not physiologically damaged, your mental habits are much more important to your overall personality and behavior than any non-quantifiable "intelligence" factor.

      Being human is a *choice*, and most people choose poorly.
  • by Quirk (36086) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:26PM (#12667787) Homepage Journal
    In order to hypothesize we simplify. Using the idea of Occam's Razor [wikipedia.org] we make a number of assumptions and the assumptions we make have a number of presuppositons attached to them. This is how we hypothesize in order to predict and once our predictions are shown to be correct we theorize. Gregory Bateson [edge.org] investigated these ideas in his book Mind and Nature [amazon.com]. Smart people should defend dumb/wrong ideas, if they are concerned about falsification as the leading idea in the progress of scince, because the smarter the person the more likely the argument will be logical and the more logical the argument the more able we are to potentially falsify or verify it.
  • What he's saying:

    As a condition of being smart, defending ideas is a natural skill. Sometimes that skill takes precedent over rational thought and smart people will focus so much on being right that they will forget to think rationally.

    There, I just saved you 10 minutes of reading.

    Where's my check?
  • numbers game (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moviepig.com (745183) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:31PM (#12667816) Homepage
    Why do smart people defend bad ideas?

    Lots of ideas become 'good' or 'bad' only with hindsight. (E.g., pet rocks, E-books...) And, 'smart' doesn't always mean 'prescient' ...or 'lucky'...

  • by bergeron76 (176351) * on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:36PM (#12667841)
    Any really intelligent person will weigh all sides of an issue before making a decision.

    The great ones are the ones that select the facet that is the least known, but has no good reason to be unknown; and they make it very well known - either just because, or because they can.

  • Paul Graham (Score:4, Informative)

    by Psionicist (561330) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:43PM (#12667876)
    The essay's title is probably derived from Paul Graham's essay Why Smart People Have Bad Ideas [paulgraham.com]. Recommended read by the way, that man has insight.
  • Daikatana (Score:3, Funny)

    by Twid (67847) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:47PM (#12667897) Homepage
    In the software industry, the common example of thinking at the wrong level is a team of rock star programmers who can make anything, but don't really know what to make: so they tend to build whatever things come to mind, never stopping to find someone who might not be adept at writing code, but can see where the value of their programming skills would be best applied

    Well, that explains Daikatana [eidosinteractive.com]
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Saturday May 28, 2005 @11:59PM (#12667965) Homepage Journal
    Geeks can get infatuated with an idea that seems good, ignoring other good ideas that conflict with it. We used to call this "the tyranny of the single idea" - especially ideas that seem so good that they're treated as a "magic bullet", or (from a perhaps gentler folk era) a "panacea". This seems to be an variant of the Usenet wisdom immortalized in /usr/bin/fortune as "when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail".
  • Maybe... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by groman (535485) <slashdot@carrietech.com> on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:00AM (#12667972) Homepage
    Maybe... they aren't all that smart. Now, to answer the question why does society recognize absolute cretins as people of respectable intelligence?
    • Re:Maybe... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by zoloto (586738) *
      That theory is based on what you would consider a respectable intelligence.

      Who's to say you are intelligent simply because you are of the average intelligence? It could be that only those on the ends of the spectrum are worthy of notation and you along with the billions of others that are within the range of "normal" get ignored and thus you feel you have to make others, most easily those of lesser intelligence, appear publicly, you yourself playing 'captian obvious', foolish.

      While most people will look a
  • Death of the psyche? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suitepotato (863945) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:02AM (#12667982)
    Low self esteem which is a long-term estimation of self and high ego which is a transitory and ephemeral estimation. You can't replace the former with the latter any more than you can replace a proper diet with nothing but Cheetos and Ding Dongs no matter how much some try. And you can't invent the former simply with empty exercises. You have to examine yourself, be honest in both directions good and bad, and accept the outcome and the options for change as needed and commit to those changes or at least the endless path to the unattainable goals.

    But the usual response is the "sour grapes" one instead. These geniuses feel the world doesn't like them and regard them highly enough. They hate the world for that. They begin to respond accordingly with a haughty sneering disregard for others' accomplishments and abilities outside of their fold. Non-geeks are "lusers" and worse.

    Admit they are wrong? Fark no. That would be embracing the death of their artificial self they've made of ego straw. They can't face and embrace true emptiness that comes with the finality of true understanding and acceptance. They can't because of fear. Non-geeks may be right that they deserve derision and scorn. Non-geeks may be right that technical smarts aren't as good as hot social skills. Non-geeks may be right and they may be... wrong. And if the geek is wrong, then he isn't smart. And if he isn't at least smart, then he has nothing else and consequently would be... nothing.

    I went through gifted classes with kids who exemplified this thinking. Everything was about showing off their smarts. Making a calculator out of flashlight bulbs and switches. Creating new number and word games every single day. Designing new things and creating new programs and writing new reports every day. At all times, they had to be smarter. Any mistakes were not ignored as you ignore the dog barking outside while watching the football game. They were ignored in the style of a child covering their eyes with their hands and plugging their ears with their thumbs at night in the dark in fright desperately trying to ignore the things that go bump in the night.

    Because if they were wrong, then they weren't as smart as all that, and if they weren't smart, then they had nothing and were nothing. This would be the same as accepting total psychic death. If you are nothing, then how can you be?

    This is the mindset of most of the Linux world today. If they are wrong, then Microsoft by default is right and there is no other outcome. They cannot be wrong but learn and grow. They can't see that Windows is easier to install, configure, use, and support than any Unix variant for the average person and try to make Linux as easy. They can't backtrack and admit mistakes and leave it to others to fix their sloppy work on the theory that at least it is free. On this score, Microsoft is smart and sexy because they will after a while admit, say "we screwed up", and shrug and move on. The geek brigades besieging the MS world on the field outside never do.

    Well as someone who went through gifted classes and was maxing out the scores on all the IQ tests they could throw at me in grade school, I can confidently say to them, you can be and in fact are more often than not wrong. And the courage and intelligence to admit this and learn from it is far greater an intellectual exercise than making X11 behave with a new video driver while using Vi on a Chinese keyboard when your first language is French.

    I would further say to these people, let your fear go. You're wrong all the time starting with that you're wrong that being wrong means you're nothing. You are not secretly dumb because your intelligence is less than omniscience or because real world things trip you up as opposed to computer world things. And when you get older, you will get slower and you will seem less brilliant. If you insist on believing that your smarts are all you have, then when they are gone you truly will have nothing.

    Stop the worrying. Save time. Embrace the death of yourself. Begin recompiling self version 2.0.
    • by argent (18001)
      I'm not in "the Linux world", and I've in the past even recommended Windows over any of the competition when it's been the best choice. So...

      They can't see that Windows is easier to install, configure, use, and support than any Unix variant for the average person and try to make Linux as easy.

      When you say this are you being a wise person defending a smart idea or a smart person defending a dumb idea? Remember, Mac OS X is a Unix variant too.

      Microsoft is smart and sexy because they will after a while a
    • by dvdeug (5033)
      I went through gifted classes with kids who exemplified this thinking. Everything was about showing off their smarts. Making a calculator out of flashlight bulbs and switches. Creating new number and word games every single day. Designing new things and creating new programs and writing new reports every day.

      To keep the brain working at peak performance, you have to exercise it just like you do your muscles. That's exactly what the behavior a highly intelligent person should be exhibiting.

      They can't see
  • Paul Graham (Score:5, Interesting)

    by skochak (723803) <sarvagyak@MENCKENyahoo.com minus author> on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:14AM (#12668036)
    Infact Paul Graham wrote on this just a month ago..

    Rather Interesting...

    http://www.paulgraham.com/bronze.html [paulgraham.com]

  • The Short Answer (Score:3, Insightful)

    by colonist (781404) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:44AM (#12668165) Journal

    Smart people defend bad ideas...

    because there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.
  • by Ben Jackson (30284) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @12:46AM (#12668176) Homepage
    In part the article talks about how to handle yourself in a conversation with a someone who is wrong but (successfully) verbally agressive. This reminds me of a great book called _The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense_ [insert your own Amazon affiliate link here...] which discusses all kinds of conversation techniques for dealing with people who have mastered various annoying habits that seem to keep you from making your point. And if you don't think you need this book to help yourself then you should read it to learn about all the unfair, annoying and childish ways you can dominate a conversation. Just in case...
  • by MacGod (320762) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @01:07AM (#12668255)
    Slashdot should change it's slogan from "News for Nerds. Stuff that matters" to "Slashdot: smart people defending bad ideas". Never before have I seen a more apropos description of this very sight than the article linked herein.
  • by freeweed (309734) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @01:17AM (#12668291)
    Why Smart People Defend Bad Ideas

    Because their parents, and/or religious leaders, tell them to.

    *puts on asbestos suit*
  • by SensitiveMale (155605) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @01:22AM (#12668311)
    Three words

    "Pride of authorship"
  • by EEBaum (520514) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @02:39AM (#12668520) Homepage
    When people learn new ways of doing things, they often forget or disregard other possible ways of doing things. Most people assume the new ways they learn are better, and they often are. However, it is a quite easy way to get a group of people in a rut, especially if they only work with each other and, shall we say, "don't get out much."

    This happens in the musical world as well. As a composer, learning new rules and methods leads to writing that better follows and can more skillfully and effectively bend these rules. However, I've noticed that once I learn any given rule, I forever think in terms of that rule. If I ever want to ignore that rule, I am "actively" ignoring it. Once a new method is learned, methods that are oblivious to it vanish from one's repertoire, for better or worse.

    I somehow thought this was relevant to the topic.
  • by hung_himself (774451) on Sunday May 29, 2005 @02:52AM (#12668547)
    The writer is talking about poseurs and pseudo-intellectuals. You know - the ones you can't *avoid* hearing at parties... These people know that they are not *that* smart and try to protect their image of intelligence by defending every statement. While they believe that they have successfully pulled this off (as in the article...) what they have really done is convinced practically everyone around that they have no clue.

    In contrast, the majority of *really* smart people don't really care if they're wrong occasionally since they *know* that they are smart and being wrong once in a while is no biggie and they'll learn something so that they will be right (again) the next time...
  • 8 = 6+2 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by goon (2774) <goonmail&netspace,net,au> on Sunday May 29, 2005 @07:26AM (#12669132) Homepage Journal

    And this is why Edward de Bono [edwarddebono.com] makes for interesting reading. I wont bother detailing his bio [edwarddebono.com] but point you to his website [edwarddebono.com]. de Bono spent the early part of his life working on the structure and self organisation of the brain.

    He has spent considerable more time trying to get people to think better. For example in a thinking exercise he tries to explain why people (not just smart ones) argue incorrect results to problems through a simple example:

    • '... Most people cannot distinguish between: 6+2 = 8 8 = 6+2 The difference can be rather important. The addition of 6 and 2 cannot produce any answer other than 8. But 8 can be made up of combinations other than 6 and 2 (5+3, 4+4, 7+1). Why is this important? Because people start to believe that if you have a 'right' answer there is no need to think further because you can never be more than right. Having the right answer means you do not have to listen to other answers because they can never be 'more than right'. The result is a severe limitation on thinking. The point will be followed up in my next message. [Weekly Message (Week 20), Edward de Bono 8th May 2004 [edwarddebono.com]] ...'


    Good ideas flow from good thinking. Good thinking is (mostly) about changing perception not logic or argument.

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

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