Evangelism, Perspective, Lies and

By David Coursey  |  Posted 2005-04-07 Print this article Print

Ideals"> This should not, however, be confused with good old-fashioned evangelism, in which people promote a cause because they deeply believe in it, have a financial or professional stake in it, or both. These are the people who have, to use a common if unfortunate phrase, "drunk the Kool-aid," and thus become suspect. It is to be expected, for example, that people who have tied their wagon to the Linux star will be fervent supporters and even propagandists. If you agree with their viewpoints, these people can be excellent sources of information. But be careful of accepting their global view of how things fit together, as their perspective can be both skewed and narrow. In short: There are lots of people who need to get out more often and see how the world really works.
Read the fine print—If you see survey results, try to understand who was questioned and what they were asked before accepting the conclusions offered. Polling can be skewed by a number of factors, resulting in some of the wildly different results we see. All polling is fraught with risk and few of us are really expert enough to separate good polls from bad ones. Often, the polling organizations dont seem to know.
Likewise, if you are looking at product test results or performance claims, look at how the numbers were generated. The major publications and organizations that routinely do testing take pride in their methodologies. Some of their test results end up in product advertisements. What about vendor-sponsored testing, as in Microsoft comparing its products to Linux in its advertisements? Assuming the information is true, would anyone believe it if Microsoft did the testing in-house? And how is a testing lab supposed to fund its work if vendors dont pay? This is especially true of enterprise products, where testing can be complex and expensive. Click here to read about a recent study commissioned by Microsoft which concluded that Windows 2003 is more reliable than Red Hat Enterprise Linux AS 3.0. My own belief is that vendors publicize the most favorable numbers they can find short of making them up. And may disregard less favorable results along with way. Reading the fine print may show telltale signs of testing being, well, "rigged" isnt quite the word, but presented so as to produce results more favorable to the vendor. I filter these ads this way: They arent lies, but may compare a companys best case to a competitors worst case. In an ideal world, all research would be paid for by its ultimate consumer. This would align the researchers interests with those of the customer. Likewise, the ideal news organization would receive its funding only from readers, much in the way Consumer Reports eschews advertising. The problem with this is twofold: First, readers and customers dont like to pay for as much information as theyd happily consume. And, secondly, vendors need to get their messages to potential customers, and advertising is a legitimate way to accomplish this. I think probably 90 percent of the information I read from mainstream sources is, if not totally reliable, at least not intentionally slanted. The further the source is from mainstream, the more skeptical I become. And thats pretty much the conclusion of my analyst friends, who all said their own companies could be trusted but to treat everyone else with at least a wee bit of suspicion—and sometimes a whole lot more. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on IT management from CIO Insight.

One of technology's most recognized bylines, David Coursey is Special Correspondent for eWeek.com, where he writes a daily Blog (blog.ziffdavis.com/coursey) and twice-weekly column. He is also Editor/Publisher of the Technology Insights newsletter and President of DCC, Inc., a professional services and consulting firm.

Former Executive Editor of ZDNet AnchorDesk, Coursey has also been Executive Producer of a number of industry conferences, including DEMO, Showcase, and Digital Living Room. Coursey's columns have been quoted by both Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and he has appeared on ABC News Nightline, CNN, CBS News, and other broadcasts as an expert on computing and the Internet. He has also written for InfoWorld, USA Today, PC World, Computerworld, and a number of other publications. His Web site is www.coursey.com.

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