Fact and Opinion are not binary options

I’ve been reading discussions this week about what is truth and what is opinion. I think (just my opinion) that IT professionals avoid ethics discussions because they want to stick to facts.

According to this writer who was fed up with students voicing their opinions, there is a problem where people think their opinion is valid even when the facts contradict it. He says:

“However, eventually you are going to venture out into the world and find that what you thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and your feelings. Many, many, many of your opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat out wrong.”

I chose an IT career because I liked that there was always a definite outcome. A one or a zero. I prefer it over fields and jobs where the outcome isn’t clear. My dad was a social worker, and while he tried his best to help people, he often never know how any of it turned out at all. I suspect most IT workers like to stick to facts and avoid things that are vague.

Strange, then, that we have such strong opinions. In this recent article, McBrayer quotes a list of opinions:

“— Copying homework assignments is wrong.

— Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.

— All men are created equal.”

They call these opinions because any claim with good, right, wrong, etc is not a fact. If these are opinions, so are the common IT statements that:

  • It is best if all systems are upgraded to the most current version
  • We should always build what the client wants
  • Code should be open, modular and reusable.

If these are only opinions, then does that mean there is no right or wrong about these things? Is there nothing that we can say it is unethical to build or required in a design? Most of us know that no code should contain a Trojan Horse. And any design that does not include a backup soon ceases to exist. So are these facts?

I like the conclusion of McBrayer’s article where he argues:

“Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not…The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.

That would be wrong.”

Some of this is just semantics. We can have principles that are opinions that we consider to be facts. OK. But all of it makes me think that IT as a group should review our opinions and decide which are negotiable and which are not.

That would be right.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Donna Lindskog
Donna Lindskoghttp://www.cips.ca
Donna Lindskog is an Information Systems Professional (retired) and has her Masters degree in Computer Science from the University of Regina. She has worked in the IT industry since 1978. Most of those years were at SaskTel where she progressed from Programmer, to Business Analyst, to Manager. At one point she had over 48 IT positions reporting to her and she has experience outside of IT managing Engineers. As a Relationship Manager, Donna worked with executive to define the IT Principles so departmental roles were defined. As the Resource Manager in the Corporate Program/Project Management Office, she introduced processes to get resources for corporate priorities. In 2003 she was given the YWCA Woman of Distinction Award in Technology.

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