Encourage Healthy Skepticism

"No one likes a tattle tale!" The world tells us this so early, so often, and so strongly that conformity is inevitable. The corrolary to this works out to something like "be quiet and accept what's going on," which is unfortunate. 

I recently bought a Jetta TDI wagon, so the VW diesel doping news is on my mind a bit. I've also long marvelled at Jack Welch and his book-cooks at GE, and countless other instances of malfeasance. For whatever reason, these interest me. Particularly, I've lately become fascinated in how the world suspends disbelief that the number one reason for spectacular outlier performance is, you know, fraud (see also: Armstrong, L.).

We've played the role of tattle tale on several occasions, and it's always wound up being a bit of a fiasco for us - we're all conditioned to dislike tattle tales. But don't tattle tales play a necessary role? I'm speaking from complete ignorance here, but I can't believe that Mercedes and Peugeot and whomever else were just sitting there saying "well, kudos to the fine gentlefolk over at VW, they sure do come up with fine engineering solutions to the conflicting needs of high performance and clean emissions!" No chance. They're either afraid of being "sore losers" and calling BS where they're in a unique position to see it, or they're ignorant, or they're in on the game and just not as good at playing it. That last one sounds a lot like our old friend the level playing field, doesn't it?

Consumers aren't usually in the position to have the knowledge to see BS where it exists. If a company comes out with a 30mm deep alloy wheel that shows wind tunnel figures on par with a 58mm deep 404, that's a breakthrough. You're not expected to get past the headlines where said company is willfully encouraging belief that their wheel is that fast, or ferret out the fine print that shows how things aren't actually as they are being willfully shown. If a new part comes out that's 25% lighter than anything else in its category, you're not supposed to have the knee-jerk response that it's too light to do what it's supposed to do given the properties of the materials that are used in it. Fancy acronyms do a pretty good job of leading people to believe that physics and materials science are more "guidelines" than "iron-clad rules." 

The people who are in this position are the others in the supplier market. It's in your best interest when they encourage skepticism. I'm not saying that innovation is dead, and the better mousetraps never come along. But if someone in a good position to cast doubt over a claim does so, at least evaluate the counter arguments and see if they have any merit. It might be chicken little or a "you kids get off my lawn we were all better off with downtube friction shifters," but it might be Christophe Bassons telling you quite accurately that nothing you're seeing is what it appears to be.  


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Thanks, and yes, I have a pretty fancy English degree.


Very well written as usual . Would you happen to be an English scholar as well as a fine wheel builder ?

Uncle V

Thanks, Johnny!


Agree. Productive discussions such as this are really needed. To be called a tattle tale for trying to be fair to everyone involved (the consumers and competitors) can be uncalled for, but it does happen. But no matter how cheesy it may sound, I think doing what you believe is right should always prevail – for the benefit of all.

Johnny White

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