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The importance of showing your working...

 
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There was a controversial thread linking to an article a couple of days ago, that triggered a bunch of lost apples, moderated posts and hard feelings. Both sides of the discussion got very heated. Paul and others were prompted to update the "be nice" threads and the "f word" thread, to discuss the idea of "facts".

Earlier today I posted a link to an article on coronavirus, details it's spread and the measure that governments and organisations are, and should consider, taking to control it. Related fields, but very different responses in discussion.

On reflection it occurred to me that the fundamental difference between the two articles - and the heat in the subsequent discussion - was that in one there were a series of unsubstantiated assertions, and in the other every step of the reasoning, logic and evidence was laid out. As a maths teacher, I'm forever harping on to my students "you must show your working". It just struck me that this was an excellent example of how showing your working in real life can help.

The troublesome thread seemed to get bogged down because some claims were being considered as "true", but many readers were skeptical because for them the logic wasn't laid out.
 
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Here is some software I wrote in 1993:



I didn't show my work.  

There were 50 software packages available at the time and mine was the most downloaded.  I could argue, that mine was the best, or most popular.  

And I didn't show how I accomplished it.  

I had several features that the other packages didn't have.  And there were several features that I felt made the other packages bloated.

I don't know if they showed their work.  

As a teacher, you are teaching steps and you need to know that the students are following those steps.  

When a group of people are making life choices, they can follow whatever voodoo they want.   Of course, when people start telling you what you MUST think, then we draw a line about that here at permies.  

I remember allan savory saying something about the thousands of studies about reversing overgrazing problems.  But not one showing that overgrazing was actually a problems.  

I suspect that there are thousands of studies showing which combination of pesticides and fertilizer results in the best income per acre - but emulating fukuoka might not be satisfactory for "show your work."

I think that when you make your life choices based on the articles that "show their work" then you are all set.   And when others follow something where the work is not shown, you might think "I'm glad I am not following that path." or maybe "I wonder why they put so much weight in that path?"

I would not be surprised if you felt that your conclusions are based on thoroughly documented, first class research and "their" conclusions are based on wishful thinking and voodoo.   And I, further, would not be surprised if that same person was pointing your general direction with the exact same thoughts.


All that said, I have received countless links to "well documented research" which was presented to me as "the ultimate truth that changes everything for the better" only to get about two paragraphs in and think "the author is a fucking idiot!  And the person sending it to me must be fucking with me."  

Further still ....  when sepp holzer tells me something and it sounds like horseshit, I usually think I probably have a lot more to learn until it will make sense.
 
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Paul,it seems to me that your software did "show your work", by working.
Some things are just like that.
Flip the switch, turn the key, and get results.
No matter if there are demons in the wires or electrons, questioning "if" it works is difficult.
Possible, but difficult.
Some things are not like that.
Some ideas are subject to many variables, and cannot be easily tested.
Or, you only get one chance to test it.
How to respond to a spreading virus might be one of these ideas.
If we want rely on some qualification other than authority to evaluate such ideas, seeing how a person or entity came to that idea seems mighty useful.
Sometimes people might be more interested in how they feel about the source of information, or how the information matches with their own world view, or a bunch of other things I don't easily grasp.
Any information about a source of information might be useful for evaluation it.

I think sharing how you came to a conclusion is probably a good idea to foster honest open communications.
I think demanding some one share how they came to an is probably not a good idea.
I can think of times when I might not want to know about who came up with an idea, but not any times I would want to avoid knowing how they came up with it.

I had to grow to appreciate the no citations stance here on this site, but I now I try to apply it in RL as well.
I avoid asking people for citation, or how they came to a conclusion.
When they offer citations or explain how they came to believe something, it helps me evaluate their point of view, for better or worse, but I have come to realize, they don't owe me that, any more than I owe them.




 
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I follow the advice that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence". I am fine to let others believe whatever they like, but if they are trying to convince me of something, there'd better be some well thought out logic and evidence behind it if I am to be convinced.  I am unlikely to ASK for the evidence if it isn't presented to me, but if the claim is particularly interesting, I might research independently.

I equate it to - if I ask a coworker what the weather is like, and she says "It's sunny, with a few clouds", i'll nod and say that's nice. If she says "There's a tornado, and it's heading for us!" or "It's starting to snow!" (and it's July), then, I'm probably running to the window to check for myself, and potentially never trusting my coworker's opinions on the weather again if I can't find evidence to support her claims.

If my coworker had, instead, pulled up a few Environment Canada pages, and showed me the live tracking, or I knew of her Ph.D research in meteorology, and she mentioned the exact weather patterns that caused her to believe there was a tornado coming for us - then I might trust her judgement, even if the tornado never materialized.

I also like "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence", and try to keep that in mind as well. Just because I've never SEEN credible evidence of the Sasquach, doesn't mean it doesn't exist - but it does reduce the likelihood. If new evidence is presented, I am willing to change my mind.
 
paul wheaton
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William Bronson wrote:Paul,it seems to me that your software did "show your work", by working.



This thread is about saying "it does not work unless you show your work" or "It cannot work unless it has been done before and you have the proper citations."

My point is that it is entirely possible for something to work without citation or without a background that would satisfy another.   Even more, it doesn't need it.  

With BananaCom, I did NOT show my work.  I did not attempt to persuade anybody of the value of my designs before implementation.  

If elon musk had to show his calculations before making the tesla roadster, it never would have been made.  The "consensus" at the time was that it could not be done.  

Innovation nearly always flies in the face of convention.   And "show your work" is good for students learning a technique, but it a great way to be held back by conventional thinkers.  





One of the reasons I created this web site is to contemplate the solutions to the world's problems.  And that is violently impeded by the phrase "citation needed."



I think sharing how you came to a conclusion is probably a good idea to foster honest open communications.



Or the opposite.

I think it is lovely when people share.   I think it is wicked to require sharing.

When I was young I would share an idea and was asked "where did you get that idea?" - as if I was not capable of coming up with my own ideas.  And, further, that the person asking seemed to be fishing for reasons to crush the idea.  Surely the author of the idea has some personal flaw that could be used to render the idea false.  

So here I am, in a position of authority, and I wish to incubate the sharing of ideas that can make a big difference.  There are other sites where nearly all conversation is crushed by dumbfucks arguing about "my science beats up your science".  

I love the story of sepp holzer in spain.  He is one of 20 leaders trying to green a patch of desert and for some reason the other 19 are more focused on stopping sepp than in doing their own fucking work.  And still he wins.  What a glorious bastard.  My guess is that rather than saying "citation needed" he is going to go and solve another grand problem.  

 
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I find there is no easy answer to this.  If I show my work and my logic people are usually too lazy to follow it.  If I simply assert then I am an incompetent know it all using bias or bad sources.  In the end the only cure is results.  Even then it is better to get a whole bunch of people to repeat my results.
 
William Bronson
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[quote=paul wheaton] I think it is lovely when people share.   I think it is wicked to require sharing.
[/quote]
I agree up to the point that we are requiring something from someone else.
At that point, it seems reasonable that they can require we share whatever they see fit, and we of course can refuse.
Offer food to someone who is deathly allergic to a common ingredient and we can reasonably expect them to want to know some part of the recipe.
We can refuse them,  and they can turn down the food,  and I don't see them as wicked for wanting to know.

Being open to ideas will not in and of itself  kill us and failing to be open to them will mean killing some great ideas.
I understand we do not want to "blame the victim", by suggesting hostility is warranted because the process isn't revealed.
I believe the point the OP was making is the voluntary presentation of one's process can make communications go more smoothly.
I am clear that that can go sideways.
If you have an idea and your revealed thought process seems iffy to your audience, they be might suspect of the idea itself.
It is more honest and open to give them that oppertunity, weather their response is equally open and honest is another story.



Musk was able to make his car without explanation because he had a proven track record of success and the money that came with it.
He took inspiration from an existing vehiclevincluding licensing the technology, and took the helm of an existing company, Tesla.
He forged the first roadster with these tools,  but it nearly broke the company.
They needed more money to continue.
His track record was instrumental at this point.
Had he presented this same vehicle  anonymously, I think he would have had a hard time getting the same kind of backing.


Holzer regularly explains his methods,  plus he has a track record of success with those methods.
Further, he isn't going to stop just because other people question his methods.
His farms are his citations.
If we read a lovely permaculture fantasy novel presenting his ideas, but they had never been implemented, would we hold him and his ideas in such high regard?

Clearly we are susceptible to favoring  ideas that are associated with ideas we favor, ideas we consider successful.
The trick is to, at minimum, not heap scorn on ideas that lack such positive associations.

I suggest many things here, most of which I myself haven't even tried,  and probably never will.
I have no real record of success, but I gladly share my thought process, and experience  in the hopes it might be useful to the people here, and because their questions strengthen my ideas.
That I am not required to explain myself is indeed lovely.
That my ideas might not be adopted without explanation is entirely reasonable.
Offering citation or explanation can help entice the minds of others,  or repel them,  but on the whole I find it healthy, especially here,  where doing  so can be a safe experience.
I don't think the point of this thread was to excuseor validate  citation needed demands.
 
Michael Cox
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I believe the point the OP was making is the voluntary presentation of one's process can make communications go more smoothly.



Yes, this.

It seems that when the process is clear it is easier to bring people along with you. And if people are not on the same wavelength as you it becomes less about "I disagree with you", and more like "I'm not convinced by that step in your process". The latter feels like a constructive area for discussion for all, because exploring those areas can help move things forward.

This thread is about saying "it does not work unless you show your work" or "It cannot work unless it has been done before and you have the proper citations."


Actually, that wasn't really my intention with this at all. You can "show your working" without evidence, by simply outlining the steps in a thought process. I wasn't really intending this to focus on evidence.

For example, in one of my threads about making biochar with a trench method, I carefully laid out the steps in the logic which explained why I believe that a sealed retort approach is an unnecessary complication. Elsewhere on the web sealed retorts - with all the design complexity that entails - are pretty much assumed to be essential. I didn't need evidence and citations to explain my logic, but I probably wouldn't have carried the audience without explaining at least in outline the steps. Photos of my finished biochar heap were the icing on the cake.

 
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