Prescription vs. Description

Kurt Cagle posted this image on Facebook:

engineers-vs-physicists

with this comment:

The difference between INTJs and INTPs in a nutshell. Most engineers, and many programmers, are INTJs. Theoretical scientists (and I’m increasingly putting data scientists in that category) are far more INTPs – they are observers trying to understand why systems of things work, rather than people who use that knowledge to build, control or constrain those systems.

I would rephrase the distinction to be one of prescription (engineers) versus description (scientists) but that too is a false dichotomy.

You have to have some real or imagined description of a system to start prescribing for it and any method for exploring a system has some prescriptive aspects.

The better course is to recognize exploring or building systems has some aspects of both. Making that recognition, may (or may not) make it easier to discuss assumptions of either perspective that aren’t often voiced.

Being more from the descriptive side of the house, I enjoy pointing out that behind most prescriptive approaches are software and services to help you implement those prescriptions. Hardly seems like an unbiased starting point to me. 😉

To be fair, however, the descriptive side of the house often has trouble distinguishing between important things to describe and describing everything it can to system capacity, for fear of missing some edge case. The “edge” cases may be larger than the system but if they lack business justification, pragmatics should reign over purity.

Or to put it another way: Prescription alone is too brittle and description alone is too endless.

Effective semantic modeling/integration needs to consist of varying portions of prescription and description depending upon the requirements of the project and projected ROI.

PS: The “ROI” of a project not in your domain, that doesn’t use your data, your staff, etc. is not a measure of the potential “ROI” for your project. Crediting such reports is “ROI” for the marketing department that created the news. Very important to distinguish “your ROI” from “vendor’s ROI.” Not the same thing. If you need help with that distinction, you know where to find me.

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