Thursday, August 23, 2012

Enough with the non-sequiturs and unrelated asides in technical talks

If you have a main point on a technical matter, don't muddle it with social, political, aesthetic, or other unrelated asides.

Let's say I agree with these two propositions:
  • P1: Gravity exists, and it creates a force that varies in the direct proportion to the product of the masses of the objects involved and in inverse proportion to the square of the distance between them.
  • P2: Eating raw DiGiorno pizza is disgusting.
These are different in type, not just content: P1 is a fair approximation of the way the world works, while P2 is a matter of my personal taste. Note that disagreeing with P2 means we have different tastes, while disagreeing with P1 means you don't know what you're talking about (or you're being overly pedantic and ignoring the "fair approximation" bit above).

My agreeing with P1 and P2, however, doesn't mean that (in increasing order of irritation):
  • E1: It's fine to intersperse comments about how disgusting raw DiGiorno pizza is at random points in a talk on gravity.
  • E2: Anyone who agrees with P1 must agree with P2.
  • E3: Anyone who agrees with P1 must agree that P1 implies P2.
  • E4: Anyone who agrees with P1 must agree that P1 implies the government must do something (that is, force must be used) to stop people from eating raw diGiorno pizza.
I've noticed, in many talks purported to be about science or technology, the occurrence of events of all of these types. Often by people whose training or occupation should preclude such fallacies.