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Stuart Reid’s Bizarre Plea (James Bach’s Blog)

On May 16, 2010, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Stuart Reid is planning to do a talk on how we should use “evidence” in our debates about what works and doesn’t work in testing.

A funny thing about that is Stuart once spent 30 minutes trying to convince me that the number “35,000″ was evidence of how great the ISEB certification is, as in “35,000 happy customers can’t be wrong.” Such a concept of “evidence” wouldn’t not pass muster in a freshman course in logic and rhetoric. How does he know that the 35,000 people are happy? How does he know that they are qualified to judge the quality of the certification? How does he explain the easily checked fact that you can pick out any three ISEB or ISTQB certified testers, ask them if they think the certification has made them better testers or indicates that they are better testers, and at least two of them will do the equivalent of rolling their eyes and smirking? (Don’t believe me? I understand. So TRY IT, as I do on a regular basis in my classes)

You might think Stuart is attempting a bold and classic rhetorical move: attempting to control the terms of the debate. The problem he has is that he will lose the debate even faster if he actually engages on the question of evidence. This is because there is plenty of evidence from other fields and the history of thought itself to justify the positions of the Context-Driven School of testing. We are winning the debates because we are better informed and better educated than the Factory Schoolers, for instance, represented by Reid. For instance, Rikard Edgren (who says he’s not in the Context-Driven School, but looks like a duck to me) wrote about applying Grounded Theory to testing. I wonder if Stuart Reid has ever heard of Grounded Theory. He probably has, because I probably mentioned it at least once in the hours of debate that Stuart and I have had. He didn’t respond or react. My impression was that he wasn’t listening.

There’s something far more important than evidence that we need in our industry: engagement. People need to listen to and respond to the arguments and evidence that are already out there.

Here’s one sort of evidence I put in front of Stuart, in a debate. I claimed that my school of testing represents a different paradigm of thinking about testing than his does. After giving him examples of specific words that we define differently and concepts that we arrange differently, it became clear that the deeper problem is that he thought I was pretending to believe things that I don’t believe, just to be difficult. He actually said that to me!

This is the last resort of the determined idealogue: poke your own eyes out so that you don’t risk seeing contrary evidence. Stuart’s case rests on pretending that no one else is making a case! His demand for evidence is meant to give the impression that the evidence is not already sitting in front of him being ignored.

Cem Kaner, Michael Bolton, and I have been marshaling evidence, pointing out the lack of evidence against our ideas, and demonstrating our methods for many years. Next week it will be exactly 23 years since I first became a full-time software tester, and nearly 17 years since the first time I stood up at a conference and pointed out the absurdity of “traditional” testing methods.

BTW, here some of the kinds of evidence I offer when challenged about my work:

  • The Sciences of the Artificial, by Herbert Simon (this establishes, based on a body of research for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1978, the heuristic nature of engineering)
  • Collaborative Discovery in a Scientific Domain, Takeshi Okada, Herbert Simon, 1997, (this is an experiment that observed the behaviors of scientists attempting to create and perform experiments together in an exploratory way)
  • The Processes of Scientific Discovery: The Strategy of Experimentation, Deepak Kulkarni, Herbert Simon, 1988 (this study analyzes the basic exploratory processes of science)

The first item here is a book, the next two are papers published in the journal Cognitive Science. See, if Stuart wants evidence, he has to look beyond the desert that is Computer Science. He needs to get serious about his scholarship. That will require him to find, in his heart, a passion to learn about testing.

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