2015-04-30

On dogma in engineering

I once had a colleague who had a higher rank than me, and who was not only unconvinced by my rational and articulate arguments for doing a certain thing in a certain way, but he concluded the discussion by stating that --and I am not paraphrasing here, this is what he actually said-- the way he wanted it done was mentioned in a book, so unless I could find a book backing up my proposal, it was to be done his way.

I did not argue with him at that time, (how can you argue with that?), but I would now like to quickly jot down my thoughts on why saying such a thing is incredibly stupid:
  • Engineering books are there for you to learn things from them, not to be taken as truth by revelation.
  • An engineering book makes (or fails to make) a point by analyzing it in detail until it is self-evident that the point holds true, not by proclaiming the point and putting the name of the author underneath it.
  • The value of an engineering book lies in providing justification for the claims that it makes, not in making the claims available as ink impressed onto paper.
  • Therefore, engineering books are supposed to help you win arguments by equipping you with valid points to bring in defense of your positions, not by playing the books as trump cards.

For all I know, you may have read the whole book and misunderstood every single bit of it, or you may be completely wrong about the applicability of the points made in the book to the particular situation that you have at hand.

So, unless you can use what you have learned from a book to reason, any insistence on things written in a book on the grounds that they are written in a book is blatantly stupid dogma.

Of course, I understand that other concerns may be at play. For example, that particular guy, having been tasked with being a team leader in a team of relatively senior engineers while being only in his early thirties, and having knowledge of the fact that he is good at his job but not stellar, he was probably insecure about the possibility of large scale project failure, in which case (so he thought) he wanted to be able to save face by claiming that he had followed "best practices", and here are the books to prove it.  Oh, the cowardice.

3 comments:

  1. In response you should pick up the bible, quran or - even better - some random rambling published by yourself and cite something incoherent from it. If he frowns, just yell at him "IT'S WRITTEN IN A GOD DAMN BOOK!!"

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  2. Respond by proving the opposition is not true. Say that unless his ideas are backed up by a book (I know you dont like the logic), then his ideas are not valid. Use his own logic against him.

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