In Skins vs Believers: Linux always loses

In Skins vs Believers: Linux always loses

Summary: If someone attacks a position because the person holding it has skin in the game what they're really saying is that only unqualified opinions like theirs can be considered unbiased because not based on experience or knowledge -and, of course, also that their prior commitment to the other side of the argument doesn't count.

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Saturday's reference to a meeting of about 650 scientists questioning the human causation hypothesis on global warming drew this comment from the redoubtable hoonoze:

A coincidence

It's probably just a coincidence that a gentleman by the name of Walter F. Buchholtz, an ExxonMobil executive, serves as Heartland's Government Relations Advisor, according to Heartland's 2005 IRS Form 990, pg. 15

In reality the fact that someone found this affiliation and hoonoze thinks it discredits the conference tells us a lot about hoonoze but nothing at all about the people attending the conference, the papers they're going to present, or the science underlying their results.

Unfortunately this kind of ad hominem attack is characteristic of those who confuse moral issues with scientific ones and believe that majority opinion both establishes the moral right and trumps reality - meaning that they attach moral value to aligning themselves with the perceived majority even when, or especially when, doing so is obviously wrong on objective grounds.

My intuitive reaction to this kind of attack is apply exactly the behavior the attacker recommends to the attacker: dismissing whatever actual arguments he makes on the grounds that he's is obviously an idiot. Unfortunately, that's not the smart thing to do - the smart thing is to separate the arguer from the argument and impute a moral fault only when a biased arguer either knowingly lies in his argument or intentionally and obviously refuses to acknowledge compelling contradictory evidence.

Thus I consider the people who made "Al Gore's" climate movie morally reprehensible liars because they either had to know, or actively refuse to know, that historically atmospheric CO2 change has followed, rather than led, climate change; that melting the world's ice would take, at 434 joules/kg, more than 1,000 years of direct solar heating; and, that the gravitational bulge would have kept most of the water off the coastlines during periods when that did happen.

On the other hand, when Microsoft hires somebody like IDG to prove that Linux is less effective than Windows it's easy to separate argument from arguers - and when the consultants prove their case by hiring the least competent MCSEs they can find and turning them loose with the Linux root password and instructions to "tune" for a couple of days before running the test, you can laugh at the results while admiring the realism - because this, after all, pretty much what happens when the Boss says "Linux" but IT wants Windows.

This gets more complicated when people with agendas quote other people with agendas to cumulatively leave reality far behind. When, for example, Intel quotes Anandtech and is in turn quoted by another Intel true believer, you get stuff like this:

The post itself doesn't really shed any new light on quad-core technology but Sudip does a excellent job of responding when someone asks him to compare Intel's quad-cores with SUN's UltraSPARC processors with CoolThreads technology, 8 cores, and 32 accessible threads on a single chip.

b. Additionally, if the application is not very multi-threaded e.g., some batch jobs or optimizer solvers, then the Sun solution is simply not competitive as its cores are very simple and much lower performance on an individual core basis as compared with the Intel Clovertown Core 2 micro-architecture based cores.

That, it turns out, is pretty easy to verify. AnandTech put Intel Duo Woodcrest Xeons up against SUN?s 8-core UltraSPARCs back in June and Intel whipped SUN handily in Apache/PHP/MySQL processing, Java webserving, and every other category where they compared the two processors.

In reality even Anandtech couldn't get their reviewer to actually say this, the Sun processors hold every performance record remotely in their weight class and while all concerned have obvious commercial loyalties what you find on tracing this argument back is normal human error - not deliberate dishonesty, but merely wishful thinking aided by uncritical acceptance of unsupported argument.

In contrast when IDG's Paul Krill selectively quoted Zemlin as part of something I thought a vicious and unjustifiable attack on Solaris, I don't believe he didn't know what he was doing and therefore see the argument - itself largely a selectively quoted series of third party ad hominem attacks- as discrediting the man.

It's important to know, when separating arguer from argument, who's quoting whom. Thus my assumption in reading the comment from hoonoze above was that he didn't read through Heartland's disclosure documentation himself but is simply and uncritically quoting someone else - making him, I think, about as much sinned against as sinning.

Read his comment carefully, however, and you'll probably agree that he's really both buying and reselling the argument that only vegetarians can credibly review barbecue joints - and correspondingly that the only people whose opinions about Linux you can trust are people whose experience is limited to Windows.

That's obviously the reductio ad absurdum, but it is what he's saying and it's exactly what the people who tell you that having skin in the game proves bias want you to believe about their perceived enemies. So how should you respond? keep a sense of perspective, but when you see an argument like this, it's usually best to assume the contrary: that the arguer is silently granting the argument and hoping the emotional content of the ad hominem attack will blind you to the absence of evidentiary support for his position.

Topics: Linux, Hardware, Intel, Open Source, Operating Systems, Processors, Security, Software, Windows

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44 comments
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  • So tell me murph,

    Is that why you were so quick to point fingers at MS when the London Stock Exchange experienced an outage, despite the official reason was a "network connectivity problem"?
    honeymonster
    • because their job was to avoid things like that

      dereliction of duty is as dishonest as any other form of lying - and then bragging about how smart they were to do this doesn't really help.
      murph_z
      • But you did the same

        As you are critisizing others for. You pointed fingers at MS without having any facts to back it up, except for the fact that the application wasdeveloped on a MS platform. You ran with a half-truth; blatantly disregarded the official statement about the cause and simply concluded that the fault had to be the MS stack. Despite the official statement that the outage was caused by a "network connectivity problem".
        honeymonster
        • Caught out again Murph? [nt]

          ...
          Scrat
        • Nope that "network connectivity"

          story is designed to mislead believers - bear in mind this is a network application that collapses under heavy load.
          murph_z
          • Evidentary support? Emotional content?

            <i>"So how should you respond? keep a sense of perspective, but when you see an argument like this, it?s usually best to assume the contrary: that the arguer is silently granting the argument and <u>hoping the emotional content of the ad hominem attack will blind you to the absence of evidentiary support for his position</u>."</i><br><br>

            You read about an outage at the LSE. You knew that the TradElect system was based on an MS stack - because much to your dissapointment it had been developed on Windows and not on Unix. Do you automatically assume that it must be because of Windows or are you just playing the <b>emotional content</b> above? When a spokesperson dismisses your theory you blow it off as a strategy to cover up the real reason. Read your
            own words about <b>absence of evidentiary support</b> above.<br><br>

            Or perhaps you were privvy to evidence you just forgot to mention?
            honeymonster
          • Wow, very thorough shake down.

            Murph would be wise to not respond to you... unless he were to actually start being honest and admit his failure in logic.
            mikefarinha
          • Gee Mike

            a network connectivity failure on a network connectivity application is not an application failure? Good at logic, are you?
            murph_z
          • @Murph

            So how is it Microsoft's fault that someone's application failed?
            mikefarinha
        • Drinking the kool aid again yoggie?

          Will you ever learn?
          InAction Man
  • The same political bias...

    ...is often evident when eco-bullies demand that "big oil" companies be excluded from any discussion of energy, despite the fact that these are the only credible sources of expertise regarding drilling, refining capacity, and other issues regarding fossil fuels.

    FWIW, while ExxonMobil still focuses on oil (though it does invest in research in hybrid cars), other "big oil" companies such as BP and Shell are more properly "big energy" companies, with significant investments in alternative energies.

    Likewise, if you have any expertise in nuclear power you have no place in any policy discussions regarding nuclear power, lest your insensitive facts step on the delicate preconceptions of the anti-nuclear crowd. So saith the keepers of political correctness.

    Frankly, those that make such blatantly ridiculous exclusionary demands expose [i]themselves[/i] as the least qualified individuals to engage in the discussion.
    dave.leigh@...
    • Agreed

      ..Frankly, those that make such blatantly ridiculous exclusionary demands expose themselves as the least qualified individuals to engage in the discussion...

      Like Murph on anything Microsoft, software development, the real world etc.

      Thanks,

      Joe
      seosamh_z
    • Ever heard of diversity?

      I'm not speaking of diversity in the "classic" sense - where you try to have different races and sexes of people together on a team (like "W"'s cabinet containing Hispanics and Blacks and females). I'm talking about having people that have different PERSONALITIES and viewpoints on a team (something lacking in "W"'s cabinet of sycophants).

      When you gather scientists from one side of an issue (i.e. non-diverse) to have a conference - you get bias - WITH support. Only a fool would believe that you get the WHOLE story from such a forum.

      If a conference is put on by an oil company or a person strongly associated with an oil company - you can expect bias. Maybe not directly as in "You and your research are not welcome", but certainly as a (subtle) rejection in the "call for papers" process. Caveat Emptor.
      Roger Ramjet
      • The emptors can have all the caveats they want...

        ... but if the facts can be confirmed and not refuted then the contribution is valuable. Even when the facts do not support the position you consider to be true.

        Studies must be funded. Those doing the funding often prefer agreeable results. Those doing the study must maintain credibility, so only the most amateur propagandizers will misrepresent results.

        But the terms of the study can be carefully defined so as to produce a preferred outcome. If the situation examined is common and honestly reported, the study can still have value.
        (Murph glimpses this with his comments about the Microsoft studies. Every study is applicable to what it studies and not more broadly.)

        So a convention of those attempting to bring objectivity and self-restraint to the climate campaign can be useful if truth is considered important. Even if those funding the study can benefit from making the truth more widely known.
        Anton Philidor
      • Heard of it? I demand it!

        You're preaching to the choir. My beef is with the hypocrites who preach diversity while excluding any viewpoints that are at odds with their own.

        [i][b]If a conference is put on by an oil company or a person strongly associated with an oil company - you can expect bias.[/b][/i]

        You can expect some bias from [i]every[/i] participant in [i]every[/i] discussion. That is exactly why diverse participation is important and why I think it is silly to exclude the big energy companies from discussions about energy.

        BTW -- and this isn't specifically aimed at anything you said, Roger -- it's a poor assumption to think that every study or conference sponsored by a company is intended to produce results that favor said company. For instance, if a study is intended to show why your market share is falling, then a failure to reveal negative opinions about you wouldn't be very useful... in fact, it would be a waste of money. So it's inaccurate to think that all such things are commissioned as PR. Often they're simply commissioned, and if the results prove to be favorable they are then used as PR. We therefore can't just dismiss a study simply because it was commissioned by ExxonMobil or Microsoft and it's favorable to them. In every case we have to look at what the study says and how they arrived at their conclusions.
        dave.leigh@...
      • The whole issue's biased unfortunately

        What conference was put on by an oil company
        or by a "person strongly associated" with one? I
        agree that scientific conferences should include
        people of diverse viewpoints. The question is
        was this a scientific conference, or one to
        highlight that there IS a diversity of views? You
        see, the reason this can be valuable is the
        information the public gets is "The debate is
        over. We're causing global warming." Ie. "There
        is no diversity." Up until recently, even if there
        were scientists who participated in the IPCC
        who disagreed with the "official line" they put
        out, their contrary viewpoints were not
        published (their viewpoints that appeared to
        support the "official line" were--selective
        editing), though their names were still put on
        the report, as if they endorsed it. So what would
        you rather have? The way this issue is typically
        presented is a laughing stock. It doesn't even
        deserve the label "science" on it. In truth it's a
        political battle. That's all it is. There is scientific
        evidence to be had from the real phenomenon,
        but a lot of people are not interested in the
        science, even though they use the name of
        science to promote their side. Personally I think
        this misuse is destructive to science, not to
        mention the way money is typically doled out
        for any scientific pursuit (it's politically tinged).
        I try to avoid the distortions and just focus on
        the data and evidence. This doesn't mean I
        know the truth. It just means I pursue it and I
        make the best conclusion I can from what I can
        get.

        I've listened to Heartland, but I've also listened
        to many other sources. Most of all I pay no
        attention to the news when they talk about this
        issue, because the bobbleheads don't know WTF
        they're talking about.
        Mark Miller
    • Let the fox guard the chicken

      let Exxon invest in research in hybrid cars, ...
      InAction Man
      • If you believe that hybrid cars are a good thing...

        ...then why should you care where the funding for that good thing came from?

        ExxonMobil invests in hybrid cars for two reasons: 1. PR. They're not known as big supporters of alternative fuels, but this gives them [i]something[/i] to point to. 2. Hybrid cars still run on gasoline, though the goal is to use less. And ExxonMobil sells gasoline.

        If there's any potential in this technology at all they can use all the funding they can get, because frankly they need to do all the research they can.

        My 1992 Camry still gets better mileage than my friend's brand new hybrid. It doesn't burn oil and easily passed its emissions tests. It may be good for another five years. Furthermore, he's had 4 new cars in the time that I've owned this one, and probably won't own the hybrid long enough to offset the environmental impact of manufacturing the batteries. Counting the material acquisition, factory emissions, and the progressively worse performance of the newer cars, guess who's got the smaller environmental impact: me or the eco-warrior?
        dave.leigh@...
        • Hybrids are overhyped

          All a hybrid can do is raise the "city" millage rating to rival the "highway" millage. So a car that gets 20 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway - will equate to a hybrid that gets 25 mpg in both. The Hybrid's highway millage WILL NOT INCREASE over the non-hybrid.

          This is great if you live in the city - or drive a lot of bumper-to-bumper rush hour traffic. It is NOT so great when you drive from Detroit to Washington D.C. to prove how "green" your auto company is . . .
          Roger Ramjet
          • Yes they are

            and many firms' marketing departments are taking advantage of it, ExxonMobil is among them.
            InAction Man