Discussions Must Have the Same Foundation to be Fruitful - Friday Notes 101

When feelings mater more than rationality or facts education is a doomed enterprise. Emotion is an unassailable defence against expertise, a moat of anger and resentment in which reason and knowledge quickly drown.1.

Do you think that 5G cell towers are going to cause cancer and many other maladies? What about WIFI making your children not develop properly? Just before this whole COVID-19 thing, were you sure that the doctor's had it wrong and it was no worse than the flu?

Well I know someone that firmly argues for all those things and as we talked about COVID the very night everything started shutting down she was telling me how it wasn't a big deal and doctors just wanted to shut things down. I was talking about the different epidemiologists that I had read and what was currently happening in different countries, but none of that matter because she felt it was all overblown.

It was shortly after that discussion that I realized we couldn't have a proper conversation about any of these things because we were starting on two different foundations. Foundations that were incompatible. Where I wanted to look up research, she was citing feelings and a random blog she had read by someone else talking about their feelings. Where I was trying to find experts and default to what they said, she was looking at what peers said and going with that.

Same Foundation

Discussions need to start from the same foundation to have much positive affect. If we're both looking at some research then we'll end up with the same 10 - 15 studies on WIFI that say it's not a big deal. If it is a big deal, then it's about as harmful as pickles might be for you.

We're not going to talk about our feelings as facts. We're going to be willing to change our opinions in the face of new information. The only time we can talk about our "feelings" on something is if we have the scientific backing to have a valid gut feeling about it. Otherwise, keep the opinion to yourself.

Going forward I'm only willing to engage in discussions about things if both parties are starting on the same playing field. I'm not going to agree to take your "feeling" about some science topic and I'm not going to worry if that's insulting to you.

Where are Feelings Valid?

Now I'm not saying that all feelings are invalid as a basis for discussion. After 10 years parenting I get feelings about some parenting methods that may or may not work with my kids. After years of programming I look at some problems and get a feeling that even though I got the end I wanted, my code is really a shit show.

Feeling are inbounds when we're talking about how you're being treated.

Feelings an opinions are important, but they don't supersede actual research done by experts in a field. If someone has studied something for years or decades, they're much more likely to have a correct opinion than the rest of us are because we don't have the experience needed to judge the information properly.

I Shipped

Monday I kept up my look at RSS clients with a review of NetNewsWire for macOS and iPadOS. A number of good features here, and it's free and open source. But free and open source also holds it back in a few ways that make it not as good an option as nostalgia would have you believe.

Wednesday I talked about how I inspect web pages with iPadOS via the appropriately named Inspect Web Browser. It's not perfect, but you can get a lot done with it from CSS inspection to seeing how AJAX is working.

Today I released my thoughts on my second reading of So Good They Can't Ignore you by Cal Newport. While there is lots of utility in the book, there are also some big assumptions made. It's easy to say that meritocracy works when you're a white guy, and much harder to say it's great when you've got to work 3 jobs already and take care of kids and have no time to show that you can do more than stock shelves at a store.


  1. Death of Expertise Page 99 ↩︎