Daniel Lemire's blog

, 1 min read

How do you know that you are right?

How an individual evaluates his work is a fundamental intrinsic characteristic. If I had to classify researchers, for example, I would look at how they argue for the quality of their research.

Let me ask you, how do you know how well you are doing? Doing well can mean several things:

  • What you state is factually correct.
  • Many people know or appreciate your work.
  • The performance of your tool or system is competitive with respect to some measure.
  • You are getting a lot done.
  • You are making a lot of money.

For most tasks we accomplish, no quantitative measure is satisfying. Can you quantify how good is one of my research papers, or this blog post? Even when you can use a quantitative measure, it is sometimes prohibitively expensive to compute it. Correctness is also somewhat relative. Most non-trivial work is not without errors. The best way to avoid errors is to do trivial work. Popularity is also relative: is McDonald’s better than the best restaurant in my neighborhood?

I think you can change the direction your career takes by changing your metrics.

A secondary characteristic is what you believe makes them good. Are you doing poorly because of the working conditions, or because you are an idiot? Most research papers spend little time on failures, but it would be interesting to see how people describe their failures. I find it interesting to hear famous people tell us why they are doing well. Some stess how brilliant they are. Others stress how much they worked. Others thank others for helping them.