Education, Please

Sometimes it scares me how woefully uninformed some people are.

I realize that this sounds like I’m bashing people for not knowing about [insert subject here]. I don’t mean that. Really.What I mean by this is that it worries me how some people will talk about topics like they are educated about a topic clearly without doing any prior research about it. More specifically, it worries me how some people who are in positions of teaching, say, as my professor, will talk about some of these topics.

I’m sitting in my economics class one day, and we happen to be discussing monopolies in microeconomics. At some point, my professor starts discussing examples of monopolies, and happens to bring up Microsoft as a monopoly. Now, me being me, I am quick to object and quickly raise my hand, politely correcting her that Microsoft hasn’t been a monopoly for several years; rather, it still (disappointingly) holds a majority share of the market. (Aside: although Windows is on about 55% of servers, I couldn’t find any recent numbers for desktops. Let me know if you find it). She continues on like I didn’t mention anything.

The crème de la crop, however, happens to be her discussion about the Microsoft legal battle regarding patents a few years ago. For those of you which have not heard about this (and there’s nothing wrong with that – providing you’re not talking about it like you do), Microsoft faced a legal battle regarding patent issues with its Microsoft product Word. Rather than having done this research before, my professor instead decided to describe it in her own words, which came out something like this: “Microsoft was sued for putting special codes in the programs that they made so that people who didn’t use Windows couldn’t use the programs, and Microsoft refused to release the special codes”.
This seemed about the right time for a strong face-palm. It doesn’t take a third-year computer science student as I am to figure out that she has no idea what she is talking about; rather, anyone who has an idea about how computer programs are made knows that she hasn’t said anything right. If she had done her research about the legal case, which certainly isn’t hard to do with our good friend Google, she would have found that not only that she wasn’t saying anything right about source code, but that what she described was not even what the legal case was about.

I have no qualms about those who have a fact or two slightly off when talking about a particular subject which doesn’t happen to be their forte, but I feel it increasingly hard to sympathize with people who talk about topics in which they have no real knowledge. For clarification, the “special codes” that my professor described is called “source code” which is how people write programs, keeping a program closed source (ie. Not releasing the source code) is perfectly legal, and a company is under absolutely no obligation to compile their software to work with all operating systems on the market.

Perhaps the lack of knowledge of how programs are made is a moot point, seeing as how the legal case didn’t even involve programming at all. I guess my point, if one even has one when rhetorically ranting to the world, is that it frustrates me when those in a knowledge-distributing position (ie. A professor) distributes information without doing the proper research on it. The only part of the legal battle that my professor had right was that Microsoft was involved. I realize that this is a monumental, nay impossible, problem to combat, yet it still feels like a rantable topic. Rest assured, when I pass along information to the masses, you won’t need to put a [citation needed] tag after everything I write. [citation needed]