First off, good link to further discussion about the particular
example I brought up.
With regards to languages changing: Oh indeed, languages evolve and
the meanings of phrases and terms change over time, often losing
their connection to original meaning in the process. "Cargo cult"
seems slightly different (perhaps only because it is so recent a
term) in that it is expressly still used with direct reference to its
origins (ie, when people ask what you mean by that term) --- its just
that the meaning has been slightly skewed right from the get go.
I don't really have a problem with the meaning we programmers give it
(and that Feynman gives it), I understand what is trying to be
said --- but I do think the slight skew does bring to light something
interesting. For example, if I copy some poor form-processing code X,
I have a "real" copy that works (or doesn't) exactly like the
original. I am not missing some fundamental property of X that
prevents my copy from working as the original. I may, most certainly,
be lacking a full understanding of X and therefore not know why X is
not a good way to do it or why it fails in some situations, but
unlike the 'cargo cult', I have a working airstrip and the planes are
landing (even if some mysteriously crash). Thus, I don't think we have a
'cargo cult' problem.
The better model of the problem seems to me to be an evolutionary*
one: X is a 'meme' that confers (some modicum of) success
** on those
that possess it. It is more like a local optima in the fitness
landscape of 'things that do X', and thus it propogates.
Unfortunately, it seems that many who arrive on the scene of this
particular fitness landscape (forms processing in the present example)
find this local optima before discovering better memes (XX for
example), and this very fact helps to broaden this optima into an
ever larger plateau (making it even more likely to be encountered
Hopefully, things such as davorg
's NMS archive will begin to erode
early paths that lead to X with paths leading to XX --- that won't
happen by virtue of XX being a better optima, it needs also to create
paths that get positioned where intitial explorers of the landscape
are likely to find them first (it can't simply be a bridge from X to
XX because that won't stop the propogation of X), and those paths
can't be too steep lest the explorers turn to easier pathways (we
can't cop out and say that those who take the low road get what they
deserve, because that only helps propogate the low road). On the
other hand, I simply don't have a map of what the landscape looks
like for many who just jump right in today. If I didn't know how to
swim, I'd be looking for swimming lessons before venturing into the
deep end ... but many today jump in first and then start looking for
floatation devices. I admit, I don't understand that particular
mindset, nor do I have a solution.
* there isn't any "real" current scientific theory of 'memetic'
evolution --- I am merely appealing to an intuitive sense of what
such a theory might be like.
** ie: using Matt's FormMail Script numerous times just fine