Archive for the ‘science’ Category
Recently I’ve gotten the online learning bug back, not that it’s ever away for long, so I’ve been busy again on Coursera. And thanks to a HTML 5 course I also started to use Udemy. An Eric Ries course is waiting on Udacity for me to start it. In the past I used to use iTunesU to follow online university courses, such as Yale’s Game Theory Lectures by Benjamin Polak.
I’m currently enrolled in 6 courses, and I’ve followed a number of courses here, yet none to completion within the time period set by the tutor. Often the amount of time I would need to set aside for the course can be between 6 and 12 hours each week, this is entirely possible and I often do manage to do a couple of hours in the evening. Another issue is that to receive course credit these Problem Sets need to be in at a certain date, or courses which have been running over 1 week it is often impossible to submit these on time to be eligible for course credit.
Coursera does allow you to download all the video’s, so it is possible to view these at a later date, or even from the beach somewhere. And they sometimes offer the course multiple times, so in the example of Model Thinking I have enrolled a second time so I can complete easier.
What about it?
Whilst having discussions on a ‘thinkers’ board that I infrequently-frequently visit, someone mentioned the Dunning-Kruger effect in relation to specific politicians.
So I looked it up and something started to dawn on me.
Of late I have seen quite a number of companies adapting the ‘Google method’ of peer assessment when it comes to hiring new personnel, but for some reason those companies were having rather a decline in technical competence instead of getting the increased benefit of adding more ‘brainpower’.
As I understand it, and as related to my own observations in the peer assessments, the problem lies here in points 2 and 3 of the hypothesis put forth by Kruger and Dunning:
2) Fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
Oftentimes the higher skilled candidate is being dismissed because “he talks about weird things and can’t communicate properly” or variations thereof.
Now what I have seen Human Resources do is not recognizing this problem but rather projecting a form of ‘insecurity’ on the assessing employee ‘He may be afraid of his position’, whereupon they start complementing and ‘securing’ the assessing employee. It would go too far too add Pavlovian conditioning to this story, but it may not be too far from it.
3) Fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
Dunning has drawn an analogy to someone having an impairment, but I think a much clearer and less insulting explanation can be given by the concepts of Flatland (when read without the Victorian context, that is).
What does that mean for the business?
As for the origin of the inadeqacies, I leave that for the respective physicians and psychologists, but there are a few common mistakes companies make that help in attenuating this effect within their ranks.
- The HR departments are not sitting at the table when the peer assessments take place
This has the effect of ‘ganging up’ on a potential candidate; remember that the assessing employees will subconsciously defend their comfort zone, so no fresh blood that dares to challenge even the group of ‘old hands’ will ever be given a good mark.
And in technology, zealotism is stronger than in religion. Mention the wrong editor somewhere and you are classed ‘unqualified’. Mention that you do not have a fascist adherence to Linux/MacOS/Windows/Anythingatall and you are classed ‘incompetent’.
The way to remedy this is to have a properly prepared (as in read up, albeit cursorily, on the subject matter) HR staff sit at the table and support the candidate in matters of confidence and to ‘call off the hounds’ when needed. Also, the HR staff should ask questions like ‘why is this editor thing important in our company?’ so as to prevent the technology policies becoming the pre-conditions for a personal playground of the techs.
- Sitting personnel has gotten to the position on merits of ‘employment years’ and ‘being there first’ or ‘helping to set it up’
Often, because ‘in the land of the blind, one-eye is king’, a manager or ‘chief’ of a technical department is someone that has been a long time in a company. This is a tradition that stems from the old ‘Foreman’ habit; a senior gets to lead his peers because he knows very well what the work entails and he knows the peers very well.
But in ICT, I really have to say this, a lot of technically competent people have problems when interacting with the rest of the world. I will even go so far as to say that some of these people are in ICT because of their Rainman-like qualities; they simply are prone to defend against anything that threatens the world they have created in their own mind.
This can be remedied by not giving them decision powers. They should have all the execution powers, or put differently; they should be allowed to decide on ‘how’ to do things, but never ‘what’ to do.
Here then comes a gray area; it is sometimes hard to see when it is a ‘how’ and when it is a ‘what’. But there’s a good rule of thumb for it (this is just a marker, not a hard fact): if it involves anyone outside of the inhouse technical crew, treat it as a ‘what’. All activities done by that technical crew can be treated as ‘how’.
Obviously it never is going to be that simple, but think of this as having a race-horse pulling a gurney; the horse pretty well knows how to run by itself and given practice it even knows how to turn etc. But because the jockey has more information (i.e. the strategy, the strength and endurance of the competition) and has the ability to make judgements on that information (i.e. if the others are conserving energy, if the other horses are at their peak, when to fully go all-out) it must always be the jockey who is in control.
The horse can do things the jockey can not, but the jockey can do things the horse can not. And if the horse decides that it knows the course better than the jockey, the race will be lost most of the time.
The horse does not see it’s inadequacy in decision making, because it can outrun that little jockey even on a bad day…
And now what?
Read more articles on Human Resources…
Well, just because they know more about technology and about the work they do, that does not mean they know more about healthy and proper assessment procedures.
When assessing new personnel, have the tech department set up a kind of exam with a scoring method. That way they can ask anything they want and open questions can be scored ‘double blind’ if wanted (although simply anonymous is usually good enough).
This test can then be sent to an outside consultant or other tech company to verify both the validity of questions and the standard answers.
You can have candidates (give them fair warning though that you are going to do this) take this test and have it objectively scored. This makes for an up-to-date questioning and it also gives the candidate the possibility to defend his/her answers against the scoring because it can be done fully in writing. Sometimes that will yield that the candidate is overqualified for a certain setting. But that leaves the candidates dignity in place and gives the tech department a chance to work on themselves.
The HR staff can assess the social qualities and all other properties after a candidate has gotten through the test.
I sometimes hear that ‘it is hard getting good personnel’, but I do not think so. I think it is hard breaking down the little kingdoms that have come to be and that in an open and social world, there really should be no place for them anymore.
This article is a guest written article, and was originally posted here.
Another day, another New York Times report on bad practice in biomedical science. The growing problems with scientific research are by now well known: Many results in the top journals are cherry picked, methodological weaknesses and other important caveats are often swept under the rug, and a large fraction of findings cannot be replicated. In some rare cases, there is even outright fraud.
Recently I got into a discussion about astrology and was told that it was obvious that I’d never had a good astrological reading. I have difficulty dealing with people who choose to believe in pseudoscience, and have much in common with James Randi in this respect. Where he and I diverge is in our treatment of these fanatics, I tend to avoid them like the plague. The same holds for the people who suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia, the belief in the power of Friday the thirteenth.
Isaac Asimov writes in his introduction to the book that “[u]nder these circumstances, what crime is greater than that of deliberately misteaching the public about science, of deliberately misleading them, of defrauding them, of feeding and stimulating their ignorance?” Randi goes on to savagely ravage all the purveyors of trickery explaining that he seeks “to prove that ‘psychics’ use trickery by duplicating their wonders by trickery.” I believe that the main issue with this book is not that it is not written with the mainstream in mind, it is that the main stream media is more interested in spouting ridicules fiction and trickery rather than the truth, and the public eats it up. This is probably why politicians do so well.
I’m sure you had a nice day. And if you didn’t read Flim-Flam!
Image source: Amazon
I happened upon Last Chance to See online, and being a big fan of Douglas Adams’ previous works I thought I would quite like to read it. There is also a BBC radio program for which this book is an accompaniment and a follow up by Stephen Fry – also aptly named Last Chance to See, which I will now need to seek out.
Adams and Mark Carwardine go off on an adventure to visit some of the most endangered species of animals, some which are well known – the White Rhinoceros – and others which I had not heard of – the Kakapo – or had not know that they where on the verge of extinction – the Yangtze river dolphin. They discover that there are species of plants and animals that their numbers can be counted on one hand.
They look like humans, they move like humans, they hold things in their fingers like humans, the expressions which play across their faces and in their intensely human-looking eyes are expressions that we instinctively feel we recognise as human expressions. We look them in the face and we think, “We know what they’re like,” but we don’t. Or rather, we actually block off any possible glimmering of understanding of what they may be like by making easy and tempting assumptions.
A humorous book, from a great author, discussing the plight of many animals and their struggle to exist with their human overlords.
Image source: Amazon
My daughter’s Godmother is studying to be an MD, and has started her internship. Starting her internship coincided with her birthday, which meant that many of the presents she received were related to medicine. One of the gifts, which she gracefully allowed me to borrow before she read it was How Doctors Think, by Jerome Groopman, MD.
Groopman’s book covers one subject which I love: heuristics and bias. Heuristics are the stuff the practice of medicine is made of, which makes it a little strange that this isn’t always taught. The influence of the intuitive, fast, effortless System 1 thinking versus the slower, conscious, System 2 thinking is reasonably well known. System 1 allows us to unconsciously come to conclusions based on the information at hand, as Groopman says: “When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” The practice of medicine is such that most of the diseases encountered fit into a nice pattern, however it is also a burden which make cognitive bias possible. When a doctor sees nine patients who are suffering from flue symptoms, System 1 will quickly come to the conclusion that the diagnoses of the tenth patient with these symptoms is also flue, and will even ignore facts to the contrary. Read the rest of this entry »
You don’t demand ETA’s on shit you aren’t paying for. You don’t get angry when something doesn’t work quite right on an Alpha or Beta build of something you didn’t pay for. You don’t start shooting off at the mouth about how you are going to move to someone else’s free software if this developer doesn’t fix the software you didn’t pay for.
I was naturally in agreement with the spirit of what he said. And I think that he and these developers miss a number of simple facts: Read the rest of this entry »
Some weeks ago I read an interview with a Dutch Internet Entrepreneur who was launching a book on how to create a start up. I haven’t read the book so I can judge that, however what surprised me was his tip to give smokers only 23 days holiday rather than 26 days as they are 1.5 hours less productive every day. I think that he’s missed the point when it comes to productivity, and I’ll tell you why: