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Re: People who write perl, Perl and PERL

by tilly (Archbishop)
on Nov 22, 2005 at 08:01 UTC ( #510671=note: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

in reply to People who write perl, Perl and PERL

Prejudice means literally, "pre-judge". As in judgements that you make prior to having sufficient information to make a good judgement.

There are two major consequences of this. First of all, since you are judging on highly incomplete information, your prejudices are guaranteed to sometimes lead you to make wrong decisions. Secondly, since we are often in a position where we need to make decisions based on partial information, we need at least some prejudices.

So the question is whether it is a worthwhile prejudice to make a snap judgement about people and companies that say PERL. It is definitely a prejudice. It is definitely sometimes wrong. But is it worthwhile to make this facile judgement?

My personal belief is that in most situations it is worthwhile. Let me invent some sample figures and run some numbers to justify it.

Sturgeon's law says that 90% of everything is crap. He was probably an optimist. But let's say that he's right. Let's say that 3/4 of bad Perl programmers (and jobs) say PERL, while 3/4 of the decent ones say Perl. Then over 96% of people who say PERL are bad, while 1/4 of people who say Perl are decent. Given that 70% of people say PERL, this rule really improves your chances of finding a decent programmer (or job, depending on how you use this) after a relatively short search. Yes, you'll make mistakes. But this isn't proving to be a bad initial filter.

Now if I'm really motivated, I'm going to plumb that remaining 70% for that the 3.6% or so of decent possibilities in the pot that I'll otherwise miss. But in real life I'm rarely so motivated.

Yes, I know that means that I'll miss good people. Yes, I know that it is horribly unfair to those I'll overlook. But life isn't about being perfect, it is about making reasonable trade-offs. In fact trying to be perfect is itself an unreasonable trade-off - you wind up putting too much work out for too little reward.

So your anecdote notwithstanding, I'll continue to apply this prejudice in all situations other than ones where I think that the effort of an exhaustive search is worthwhile.

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Re^2: People who write perl, Perl and PERL
by BrowserUk (Pope) on Nov 22, 2005 at 08:56 UTC

    Let me say up front that I am not accusing you of anything, nor do I have any reasons to believe that you would subscribe to anything that follows in any way whatsoever.

    Isn't it a slippery slope from what you are saying above to

  • Women make lousy programmers, and they will want to take leave to have kids anyway, so we can discard any applications from them. That'll cut the pile.


  • Overseas universities have much lower standards than domestic ones, so the degrees from there aren't worth the paper they are written. Discarding applicants with those will trim the pile.

    Or any number of other, many more obvious, pre-judgement criteria?

    All of which would be equally, ethically dubious. Some of which are, in most countries, outright illegal.

    Examine what is said, not who speaks -- Silence betokens consent -- Love the truth but pardon error.
    Lingua non convalesco, consenesco et abolesco. -- Rule 1 has a caveat! -- Who broke the cabal?
    "Science is about questioning the status quo. Questioning authority".
    In the absence of evidence, opinion is indistinguishable from prejudice.
      Yes, there is a slippery slope. And it isn't a long one, either.

      An better example than the ones that you gave is the following, "Blacks are admitted and then get preferential treatment in universities thanks to affirmative action, so we should not consider their degrees to be as good."

      I consider this to be better because virtually any educated American whose eyes are open has seen this happen. Far from every black, not even a majority, but there are plenty of painfully bad examples walking around. By contrast I can't say that I've seen any evidence that the women who are interested in programming are significantly worse than the men who are interested in programming. And my personal experience with people who got degrees overseas has been very good.

      So I've admitted that this line of thought can lead to horrible conclusions. Obviously nobody reasonable would want to say them. (At least not in public.) But is it wrong?

      My answer is that, on a personal level, it is not wrong. Even the reverend Jesse Jackson has admitted that when he is walking down a dark street, he worries more if he is being followed by a black man than a white man. A glance at US crime statistics strongly suggests that this is a fairly reasonable concern. Trying to deny that this is factually the case may make us feel good, but it is intellectually dishonest.

      But on a societal level, it is very bad. It creates and perpetuates a permanent underclass. It leads to a nasty cycle where lack of opportunity creates conditions that reinforce the biases that cause the original lack of opportunity.

      A major job of government is to make people act in ways that benefit society as a whole when those people individually would not act that way. For instance I know that my personal financial contribution makes an imperceptable difference to how good the roads I commute on, while keeping my money makes a huge difference to my life. Therefore government makes me contribute, by charging me taxes and then spending it on roads. (For more on the intrinsic problems with supplying public goods I heartily recommend The Logic of Collective Action.)

      When you combine these facts it makes perfect sense for government to force people not act on certain prejudices that they may have. Which it does - as evidenced by the laws you mention. (The fact that we need such laws is evidence that the issues are not about to trivially resolve themselves.) And I personally support these laws because I think that they are a good thing.

      In short, there are reasonable prejudices that I don't want people acting on. But there are also reasonable prejudices that I don't mind people acting on. Where do I draw the line?

      I personally mostly draw the line based on how easy it is for someone you're prejudiced against to fix the issue. If you're black, you aren't changing that (OK, Michael Jackson did...) so I don't want people acting on that prejudice because it locks you into a ghetto. OTOH if you don't know how Perl is supposed to be capitalized, it is trivial for you to change that. Therefore I feel that my stigmatizing you for that fact is not a significant barrier to you.

      I say mostly because I also find it very reasonable to be prejudiced against people because of characteristics that directly affect performance. The canonical example is that you don't pick short people to be basketball players. Now perhaps the short person actually is better. But physical height is such a direct factor in your ability to play basketball that it is going to be very hard for you to overcome that handicap.

      A big difference between the Perl/PERL prejudice and the ones you've posted (aside from the fact that yours cannot rationally be defended as being accurate IMO) is that it concerns something someone does as opposed to something someone is. Using the wrong case when spelling perl is a mistake, same as a syntax error when programming. If I were employing programmers or looking at a prospective boss, I would prefer candidates who do not habitually make syntax errors, and that is a perfectly valid prejudice to have.

      Debugging is twice as hard as writing the code in the first place. Therefore, if you write the code as cleverly as possible, you are, by definition, not smart enough to debug it. -- Brian W. Kernighan

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