Monday, September 6, 2010

Science is not a Democracy

This post might be one of the more meaningful and pertinent to today’s times that I have published in a while. A phenomenon that I have observed taking place is the inclusion of people of various different educational backgrounds working together in the same team. Now this brings together Engineers with Sociology, Psychology and English majors (with no technical knowledge or training). What proceeds to generally happen next is a free for all with everyone trying to come up with the answer in order to get the much vaunted promotion.

The answer to 2+2 is 4. It is not 3. It is not 5. And it will never be anything but 4. Even if all the non mathematics majors go on indefinite strike insisting that in their opinion it should be 3, the correct answer will be 4. If you were to throw a ball up in the air, it will eventually reach an apogee after which it will fall back down (real estate owners, are you listening?) to where it was projected from. The world of science is not a democracy. The laws of physics are not open to debate. Yes, you might be able to circumnavigate the law of gravity (for example) utilizing an airplane but even that follows certain laws of aerodynamics of its own. So what I am trying to illustrate here is that there is one right answer in science and countless wrong answers. Science is not like a philosophy paper that you handed your professor in college with the knowledge that you would at least be guaranteed a “C” grade. In science it’s either an “A” or an “F”.

Now let us go back to our scenario of many different expertise levels working together on a project. What I have seen happen often and is a major stumbling block to efficiency is that people who have no clue regarding what the right answer is will insist of speaking “their turn” and forcing their incorrect answer on everyone. If an attempt is made to try and shut these people up, they will instantly round on that person and accuse them of attempting to stifle them and be a “bully”. In extreme cases, the “human rights” of these people will be claimed to have been violated. The manager often ends up playing the role of the judge and a great deal of time and effort is wasted not to mention many times the wrong decision being taken because the English majors were feeling “left out” and the consequences of the wrong decision in terms of defects and rework.

What is really to blame here is the old boys (or old girls) network style of doing things where someone with 10 years of experience in the company has to be taken care of even if they have no knowledge of the position that they are now in. Truly, management needs to handle this situation effectively as what will happen is that the people with expertise will simply leave for better environments to be found at other organizations. Then the company will simply be left with “human rights activists” and zero technical expertise. Management really needs to let people with low technical expertise know what the problem is and to get them to stay out of the way of people with technical expertise.

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