Friday, November 7, 2008

On Learning When To Shut Up

You know what phrase I'm beginning to dread? It's "Oh, so you're saying that...". Nine times out of ten, I'm not actually saying that. Or if I was saying that, I was merely speculating.


Me: This is not giving the result I expected. I observed effect Y, so maybe it's due to Z.
Person X: Oh, so you're saying that [slight rephrasing of Z] is causing the problem.

No, I'm not stating an absolute, as indicated by my use of the word "maybe". I'm putting forward a hypothesis, which is what you do in science. But I don't appreciate you nailing me down on that hypothesis before I have even investigated it.

Maybe (just a hypothesis!) the problem is with me. These are (for the most part) busy people I'm talking to, and maybe they can't afford to spend that much time speculating anymore. So when I'm coming up with a hypothesis, they just assume I wouldn't be telling them if I hadn't already thought about it for some time.

In other words, do I need to learn when to shut up?