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Poll #800066… - Sally's Journal
August 20th, 2006
10:06 am

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I feel uncomfortable when it is suggested I might be wrong

Yes
19(22.1%)
Sometimes
56(65.1%)
No
11(12.8%)

I feel more uncomfortable when it is suggested I might be wrong about

Something that I am absolutely certain is correct
55(66.3%)
Something that I have lots of doubts and worries about myself.
28(33.7%)

I feel more uncomfortable when it is suggested I might be wrong about

A matter of faith or opinion, such as religion or politics
16(19.8%)
A factual matter in my field of expertese (NB, I know this question might break if you're a vicar or the PM)
65(80.2%)

(21 comments | Leave a comment)

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From:sally_maria
Date:August 20th, 2006 09:24 am (UTC)
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That's a very interesting question - I'm not sure whether I can focus my answers enough to answer the poll.

I do know that in a professional environment that I don't mind people telling me I'm wrong if they can provide better evidence - I get very annoyed with people who just assume I don't know what I'm talking about.
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From:catyak
Date:August 20th, 2006 09:37 am (UTC)
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Anyone can make mistakes, it's just irritating to do so. Some people also haven't learned the important Truth that "There May Be More Than One Right Way".

I've seen people do things that I wouldn't do and seen them succeed. Then I can look at what they did, what I did and decide whether my method had a flaw and wouldn't have worked, whether both methods were eually good or whether one was actually better than the other.

Religion and politics are classic examples of multiple correct answers. Or should that be multiple incorrect answers (on the basis that there isn't a correct one)?

D
From:wryelle
Date:August 20th, 2006 10:37 am (UTC)
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I left the middle question blank, because I think it depends. I think we all have things we are openly happy to be agnostic about and things that we don't want to doubt.

I've always found people talking rubbish on factual matters irritating. I think it's a nerd thing. :)
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From:purplepiano
Date:August 20th, 2006 11:26 am (UTC)
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I feel uncomfortable when it is suggested that suggesting that I might be wrong makes me uncomfortable!
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From:gerald_duck
Date:August 20th, 2006 11:52 am (UTC)
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I feel most uncomfortable if it's suggested I might be wrong about something about which I've previously stated a definite opinion where I now have doubts and where the backtrack will be embarrassing. This, I believe, is entirely normal: that's supposed to make one uncomfortable and the solution is to try to avoid being vociferously wrong. (-8

So for the second question, although I said "something that I have lots of doubts and worries about myself", that's only if I've previously been fairly sure.

I didn't answer the third question, because I didn't understand the second option. If it's a factual matter in something that's genuinely my field of expertise then I'm right, almost by definition. Perhaps "field of supposed expertise"? :-p I'm entirely comfortable about being wrong on matters of religion or politics, precisely because I know views there are mutable and subjective so I try not to state anything too strongly. I guess where I feel most vulnerable is areas where I'm pretty sure I've got my facts straight but not certain… especially if the other person is certain they're right but probably mistaken.
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From:vyvyan
Date:August 20th, 2006 01:38 pm (UTC)
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I didn't answer the third question, because I didn't understand the second option. If it's a factual matter in something that's genuinely my field of expertise then I'm right, almost by definition. Perhaps "field of supposed expertise"? :-p

I took the question to mean that I was not actually wrong, but that someone else (who was mistaken) was suggesting that I was wrong. This makes me uncomfortable - well, it makes me annoyed and upset that I can't persuade them of the right answer, anyway.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:August 20th, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC)
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Ah. Annoyance isn't (to me) the same thing as discomfort.

And people suggesting I'm wrong when I'm right is a daily event in a close-knit group of software developers where we don't like going off and doing our own thing without consulting the others. Most of the time it's not even annoying.

And yes, a lot of the time it's me suggesting they're wrong when they're right. To people outside the culture (for example, my girlfriend), the discussions can look like a blazing row… until someone folds, at which point everyone agrees and goes away happy, nobody angry with anyone. (-8
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From:vyvyan
Date:August 20th, 2006 04:40 pm (UTC)
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I was thinking more (for my own situation) of people who are not trained in my specialist subject disagreeing with me over points of fact in that specialist subject, even when I spend ages providing ground-up justification for these utterly uncontroversial (within the field) claims. Particularly at fault for doing this is my father... Perhaps I overreact, but my emotional response is not merely irritation but a sense of deep unhappiness and failure which may persist for days; discomfort seems to sum it up quite well for me!
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From:atreic
Date:August 20th, 2006 02:18 pm (UTC)
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If it's a factual matter in something that's genuinely my field of expertise then I'm right, almost by definition

I don't understand how you expect to be right. I am a mathematician, my field of expertese is mathematics, and if I make a mistake doing simple (eg A-level) maths, I'd be very embarressed and feel a bit daft. But I do make mistakes in my field of expertese sometimes. Are you saying you never do? Or are you saying that if I make a slip differentiating something (because I'm tired, or distracted, or whatever) I can't claim differentiation to be my field of expertese?
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From:gerald_duck
Date:August 20th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
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Well, yes, on minor matters people make mistakes — though hopefully most experts would be sufficiently honest to say "I'm tired, but I think that…", "The answer's probably… but I'm too busy to think about it right now" or whatever in circumstances like those you describe.

I was thinking more of experts making ex-cathedra pronouncements in their field. The sort of thing they might say as expert witnesses in a court of law, or in a peer-reviewed journal, for example. I would hope any true expert would be wrong in such circumstances extraordinarily infrequently, perhaps not even once a decade?
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From:sashajwolf
Date:August 20th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
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expert witnesses in a court of law

Expert witnesses in a court of law disagree in almost 90% of cases, I'd estimate. That suggests that they're wrong at least 45% of the time. In fact, if an expert is not willing to concede that he or she might be wrong, the court will normally give their opinion less weight than otherwise.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:August 20th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
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Do you mean that real, bona-fide expert witnesses disagree, or that one side brings in a legitimate, recognised expert while the other merely finds someone with plausible qualifications who can be coaxed into saying what they want?

Also, there are many cases where people have had their careers destroyed or at least severely set back by giving incorrect expert testimony. There are the ones that reach the papers, and I also know of many in the field of computer security and cryptography.

Things are also rather different if the expert is being asked for a professional judgment rather than consulted on a point of fact.
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From:sashajwolf
Date:August 21st, 2006 09:01 am (UTC)
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I mean that bona fide experts disagree. An expert getting it wrong only makes the papers in the most egregious cases. What effect it has on them in their field depends on the politics of that field, I suppose, but in my experience most cases are too low-profile to have much effect. Very many cases turn on which of two opposing experts the judge found more plausible, especially in fields such as product liability or clinical negligence. I can recall very few cases in my professional life that have not involved experts on both sides who disagreed with each other on at least some points. If the experts agree on every point, the case is unlikely to come to court at all.

I'm not sure the distinction between fact and judgment holds up well in a forensic context. Expert witnesses are consulted to provide their professional judgment on what the facts are likely to have been; only rarely is there certain proof. Indeed, at least in English procedural law, it is not permitted to call expert witnesses to deal with factual disputes that do not require the exercise of professional judgment; that would be considered a waste of the court's resources.
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From:whatifoundthere
Date:August 20th, 2006 10:19 pm (UTC)
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I was thinking more of experts making ex-cathedra pronouncements in their field. The sort of thing they might say as expert witnesses in a court of law, or in a peer-reviewed journal, for example.

But that's not how the humanities work. In my field -- ancient history -- we're all putting together jigsaw puzzles where three-quarters of the pieces are missing and there's no picture on the box. Reasonable people can, and do, disagree on the interpretation of the data. If someone is publishing something in a peer-reviewed journal, it's because the question hasn't been settled, not because it has.

That said, there are a lot of people who like to think of themselves as experts in church history just because they went to Sunday school when they were five. Such people will not hesitate to make pronouncements about things I've studied for more than a decade, and usually those pronouncements are based on a total misunderstanding of the ancient world. I wouldn't say such people make me uncomfortable exactly, but they annoy me enough that I've stopped telling strangers what I do for a living because I simply have no interest in the predictable conversations that always follow.

From:neonchameleon
Date:August 20th, 2006 12:31 pm (UTC)
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A factual matter in my field of expertese

Normally that just makes me feel irritated.
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From:oedipamaas49
Date:August 20th, 2006 02:27 pm (UTC)
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I feel most uncomfortable when I'm challenged on something that I'm not sure I'm right about, but have an emotional investment in my position on. A good example would be somebody making the argument that religion, marriage and stability are the most likely route to happiness. Even if they're right (and they quite possibly could be), I'm not sure I could ever change my beliefs. Hence I'm not as rational as I'd like to believe, and huge chunks of my attitude to the world are based merely on prejudice - and that is the uncomfortable thought.
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From:ixwin
Date:August 20th, 2006 06:45 pm (UTC)
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Actually, for question 2 it's not really either of those - if I really am certain about something, then my assumption is that the other person is wrong, though I'll check that by asking them, and I won't feel uncomfortable about that. The problem comes when there's something I'm fairly confident about, but not certain, but that I've nonetheless stated as fact, and then someone queries it - I feel particularly bad when I give a person (factual) advice, and then a third party queries it - partly because it's embarrassing to be wrong, and partly because I don't like finding out that in trying to be helpful I might have made things worse.
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From:king_of_wrong
Date:August 20th, 2006 07:20 pm (UTC)
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OK, I should probably comment here, since my answers are out of line with everyone else...

I don't feel shame, embarassment or discomfort from being accused of being wrong - I've earned this nickname many times over - for two reasons: i) I'm confident in any claims I make, so I tend to assume that anyone disagreeing is wrong and ii) if they turn out to be correct, so be it, I now know the truth of the matter.

As such, I've really no place answering the other two questions, but...
* I'd assume anyone telling me I was wrong on something I'm undecided about is trying to manipulate me, and I'd buck against that on general principles. Something I'm certain about, well, I'm certain about, so the other person has to be wrong.
* If you're attacking me on my "home turf" then you're either significantly better in that area, clueless about your actions or completely insane - all of which require more attention than a casual disagreement.
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From:whatifoundthere
Date:August 21st, 2006 01:23 am (UTC)
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This is a fascinating poll, but I'm not really sure how to answer it. As you predicted, the third question breaks for me, and not just because I happen to be a professor of religious studies.

I think that a lot of people think religion and politics are matters of "faith or opinion," but then they go on to say stuff that is simply, objectively wrong. "The Bible says that if you're good you'll go to heaven" is an indefensible statement, frequently spoken by people who have never read the Bible. Sadly, though, if I were to call someone on bullshit of this sort, then they immediately try to wriggle out of it by saying "Well, religion is just a matter of opinion."

Of course there is plenty about religion (and politics) that is a matter of faith, but if you listen carefully, you will notice that very few people talk about faith. Instead, they talk about "what scripture says" or "what people did in the ancient world." Or they'll do laughably primitive analyses of tough philosophical questions like theodicy, never having bothered to analyze the logic of their own thought (or read anything written by anyone else). That's sloppy thinking, not "opinion." But of course people use "opinion" as a shield against all criticism in that regard.

I am annoyed by people who do this. I am not at all annoyed, or made uncomfortable, by people who think carefully about these issues and then come to different conclusions than I do. As I often tell my students, you only earn the right to disagree with something once you understand it.

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From:rmc28
Date:August 21st, 2006 08:02 am (UTC)
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My father has a good rule of thumb for arguments/disagreements: "if you are feeling very defensive, the chances are you are wrong".

This is a very useful rule, as it is almost always right.
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From:lavendersparkle
Date:August 21st, 2006 10:18 am (UTC)
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I don't like the possiblilty that I could be wrong about sometime because I am very intelligent and this has meant that:
a) I haven't had the opportunity to get used to being wrong
and
b) an awful lot of my self worth is based upon my being correct about things.

I prefer to be challenged on something if I know I'm definitely right or if I think I'm probably wrong.

If the thing I'm being challenged on is something like a spelling mistake which I may well be wrong on I know that I make lots of spelling mistakes so I don't invest much self value in being able to spell and I don't bother defending my attempt to spell so it doesn't matter if I made a mistake.

If I know that I'm definitely right I'll either argue until I convince the other person I am correct or not bother a bask in the feeling of intellectual superiority. If I'm in the mood to argue I might keep going for quite a while, particularly if there are other people there who would see me giving up on trying to convince the other person as an admission that I was wrong. This makes the position of thinking I am right and not being sure so difficult because if I go into a long discussion to defend my opinion and it turns out I wasn't right I look like an arrogant idiot. However, I find it quite difficult to handle the challenge in a way that doesn't invest so much in me turning out to be right.

I feel more uncomfortable being challenged on areas of my expertise because religious/political arguements tend to boil down to having slightly different subjective axioms, so there isn't a clear universal right or wrong answer. I'm happy with people having different axioms to me. If someone challenges me on a purely factual issue I can definitely be clearly proven wrong so which is a more worrying prospect.
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