Do you agree with that quote by Peter McIntyre? I partially do. I love having the freedom to be wrong and tend to avoid conversations with people who always insist that their view is the only one. I knew a fellow once who believed he was always right. Once he made up his mind he refused to look at any more data. The one day he suddenly looked shocked. “I was wrong!” He said. “I was actually wrong!” Then he relaxed and smiled. “Oh well,” he said. “I guess once in 50 years isn’t too bad.”
On the other hand I had a boss once who liked to be right, but he wanted to be sure it was really true. I was cheeky enough to argue physics with him even though I only had a bachelor’s degree and he was internationally known in his field. I was usually wrong but he was a great teacher and would work through the problem on the white board and I would learn a lot. He always took my questions seriously because once in a while I was right.
One of my favorite times was after he blew up at me for a problem I has run on the supercomputer. Another group leader came in with a question and no money to pay for computing. Dave (not his real name) confidently told him the answer was in a computation I had already done. When I told him I hadn’t run that many modes (don’t worry about the details) Dave lost it and yelled at me for not having done it. I was upset at being yelled at but remembered there was a good reason I had only run three modes. Even that many was pushing the limits of the machine, and computer time was scarce. I had worked nights and weekends to get the truncated problem done.
So I didn’t say anything when Dave yelled. That wasn’t like him at all, so I figured I would wait until he had calmed down and was ready to listen. Then it dawned on me that because of the parameters I had used (called boundary conditions) it wouldn’t have mattered how many modes I had run. The information he wanted just wouldn’t have been there.
So I waited until he was coming down the hall in a good mood and said, “Hey, Dave, remember that problem we were talking about? It wouldn’t have mattered how many modes we ran. The boundary conditions were wrong.”
He instinctively denied it. “Oh, Jean, the boundary conditions weren’t wrong.”
I smiled and countered with, “How would you like to bet a beer on that?”
He looked at me trying to guess if I was right or just bluffing. He decided to gamble. “No, Jean, the boundary conditions weren’t wrong.”
So we went into my office, I sat down and he went to the white board. Yes, the conditions were fine in the x and y directions, but when he got to the z direction he put down the marker and said, “Oh, Jean, have it your own way. I don’t have time to argue with you!” Then he marched out to work on something far more important than my little problem.
Needless to say, I did not remind him he owed me a beer.
Yes, it is fun to be right. But it’s even more fun to have the freedom to be wrong. What do you think?