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Unhelpful “helpful” people June 9, 2009

Posted by mwidlake in Management, Perceptions.
Tags: ,

I keep meaning to getting back to more technical blogs but I need to spend some time sorting it out first, and something has just bugged the hell out of me, so another “wordy” one today.

Richard Foote has gone back to explaining the basics of indexes and the CBO, which if you are new to CBO or indexes, hot-foote {sorry} it over there immediately and check it out. He is a brilliant teacher.

Near the start, he has a link to someone on one of the OTN forums who is stating the Cost Based Optimiser sucks. I won’t repeat the link. No, sod it, I WILL repeat the link. Here it is. It might elevate the page in google’s scoring but what the heck.

This person’s rather poor outlook on the CBO did not bother me, nor the fact that he is, in my opinion, wrong {he suggests using the rule hint on oracle 10, which is an option but is not, in my opinion, a mighty good idea as (a) who now knows the rules of the Rule Based Optimizer and (b) the hint will be ignored if you are using most new features added since 8, such as bitmap indexes or IOTs or partitioning. It might {and I have no proof for this} cause the feature not understood by the RBO to not be used, so maybe ignoring a nice bitmap index or function based index. Oh, and (c), if you have good stats the CBO usually wins.}.

What irritated me was his/her high-handed and abusive posting. That really annoys me. Then I thought “no, we all lose our temper sometimes and the person they are having a pop at did kind of ask for it”. But because I think that being abusive or condescending on forums is such bad behaviour, I dug a little into the other postings by this person.

Some were helpful. Many were simply links back to other pages or to some front end to Google the person’s question. And several, many, were abusive. Along the lines of “Why are you so stupid”; “If you can’t be bothered reading the manual you don’t deserve help”; “I would not employ you as you are a moron”. You get the idea?

It is a big problem with forums, and actually also in the work place (and occasionally, sadly, at meetings and conference). People being condescending, antagonistic and demeaning to others who do not know what they, the Mighty Brain, knows, who seem to Mighty Brain to not be trying quite as hard as they could or are seemingly asking something obvious.

OK, if it is obvious, give the answer. It might be that you, oh Mighty Brain, did not understand the question. OK, they maybe are not trying hard enough. Suggest to them where they could look, maybe this person has 3 managers breathing down their necks and they just really, really want an expert opinion now as they are not sure which of the seven opinions in google to trust. And Mighty Brain, unless you were born with your knowledge placed in your head by God, as a special force on this earth, you didn’t know what this “moron” does not know at one time. Someone told you or, vary rarely, you worked it out for yourself.

The truly, blood-boilingly, unjust thing about Mighty Brain? They are so sure of their own towering knowledge that they can’t see that they are often wrong.  I can’t think of any Oracle Expert who is widely accepted by their peers who is a “Mighty Brain”. In fact, a common trait of the very best practitioners and teachers (of any subject, not just IT) is that they are always willing to admit they do not know and to learn.

I did look for a way to ask for this particular Mighty Brain to be barred from the forum, but then I just decided to vent my spleen on my blog and have a glass of wine.

I hope that person trips over and really cracks their shins or something. Nothing permanent, just something incredibly painful. Grrrrrr.

Update – Jonanthan Lewis has commented to let me know that this “unskilled and unaware” {what a brilliant phrase} is the Dunning-Kruger effect. The link got filtered out by the comment mechanism, so I’ve posted it {well, maybe a similar one} here. Thanks Jonathan.


1. Jonathan Lewis - June 10, 2009

It is an interesting phenomenon that the less competent people are much less aware of their limitations and far more likely to over-rate themselves. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger effect: “unskilled and unaware”.

(I’ve tried to edit in a URL – please fix it if I got it wrong).

2. Kumar - June 11, 2009

But I have seen those “Mighty Brain” being trusted by management and sometimes peers too. The person who is quiet and minds their business is seen as someone who really does not know much 😦

mwidlake - June 11, 2009

Thanks for your comment Kumar. I know what you mean, the loud person who sounds so convinced of their own argument that people listen. Usually they make enough mistakes in the end to lose people’s trust but it can be hard work whilst they hold sway. Sometimes they are so good at counter arguing that, even when they mess up repeatedly, they sometimes still keep being listened too. My only advice is that you have to try and state where they are wrong {so you do have to speak out}, be logical and reasonable but avoid getting angry or resorting to their way – The Big Brain is almost certainly better at shouting and arguing. Just give the different opinion calmly and hope that over time people realise. It is not easy, I am afraid.

3. Dunning-Kruger Effect (The Idiot) « Richard Foote’s Oracle Blog - June 11, 2009

[…] 11, 2009 Posted by Richard Foote in Richard's Musings. trackback In an interesting blog piece by Martin Widlake regarding his annoyance at just how unhelpful some people can unfortunately be in forums, Jonathan […]

4. Jeffrey Kemp - June 12, 2009

It’s interesting, I read your post around the same time I read this story on New Scientist:

“Humans prefer cockiness to expertise”


“The research … shows that we prefer advice from a confident source, even to the point that we are willing to forgive a poor track record. …In competitive situations, this can drive those offering advice to increasingly exaggerate how sure they are. And it spells bad news for scientists who try to be honest about gaps in their knowledge.”

mwidlake - June 12, 2009

Thanks for that Jeffrey.

I really must get better at reading “New Scientist” – I have half a dozen around the house bought since Christmas and not fully read. If anything, it gives me a heads up on the “breaking news” science story that the BBC sometimes has…. 4 months after the event!

It’s true that most people can’t accept a “scientists approach” of being honest that few things can be utterly known and that most knowledge is actually on a “it’s the best we can do for now” basis. Which does not mean scientitsts doubt the core propositions, just that they are willing to admit the details are yet to be worked out.

Having said that, I’ve worked with scientists. Some are brilliant, utterly amazing individuals. Most are cleverer than average but fail to understand that their brilliance in one field in no way makes them infallable in many, many others. I think of scientists as “very, very clever stupid people” as a result. Yes, you understand biomechanics in a way I never could. But why can’t you tie your own shoe laces?

5. Amit - June 14, 2009

Looking at the Otn person profile, you will go to his website (edited by mdw) I believe it’s (edited by mdw)

mwidlake - June 14, 2009

Hi Amit, thanks for your comment.

I’m afraid I edited it as I think you might be wrong in who you are identifying as the person and, even if you are right, explicitly naming them just gives them coverage they do not deserve.

I think the original poster of the comment just likes the site you mention as it appeals to their sense of humor.
I have to admit, though, that I have little time for the person you suggest – too much output, not enough quality assurance!

6. Ben Buchanan - July 17, 2009

Here is a nice video about the dunning-kruger effect, and why people over estimate thier own ability

mwidlake - July 19, 2009

Ahh, the Lake Wobegone effect too :-).
I wrote the draft of a follow-up to this post about the Lake Wobegone effect which I was going to put up one Friday – but it’s just sitting there in the draft folder at the moment. Perhaps I should finish it off and post it.

Thanks for the video Ben, I really enjoyed it.

7. Team Work & The Science of Slacking « Martin Widlake's Yet Another Oracle Blog - July 23, 2010

[…] you like this sort of thing you might want to check out one of my first blog post which was on the Dunning-Kruger effect, where some people are unaware of their own limitations – though I did not know it was called […]

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