I recently attended the International Conference on Software Engineering. It was not unlike purgatory: days blurring together into a uniform smear of computer science and computer scientists, a smear stretching in all directions both space and time, without beginning or end. I had a good time, and I learned some computer science, and I also learned what it was like to be a medieval peasant.

If you’ve done much computer science, you probably know about lambdas. If you haven’t, suffice it to say, some programming languages have “lambdas,” and others don’t. Some people are strongly pro-lambda, and some people are strongly anti-lambda. It doesn’t matter who’s right. What matters is that you have two groups of highly educated people arguing about whether or not lambdas are good.

I am one of these people. I have strong opinions about lambdas. I have had these opinions for a long time. And until this guy stood up and started presenting his paper, it never even occurred to me that–


Do you have trouble seeing how witch doctors ever worked? I mean… all it takes is one person who tallies the number of people who die with leeches, and the number of people who die without leeches, and then everyone sees that leeches don’t help, problem solved.

Science is like the wheel, or the Cartesian coordinate plane: it’s obvious. It’s so obvious that I simply can not conceive of life without it, and on some deep irrational level I feel like if I forgot all about it, I would reinvent it on the spot.

But until this guy stood up and started presenting his paper, it never even occurred to me that you could use science to answer the question “Are lambdas good?” Seriously, just put a bunch of programmers in front of computers, tell half to solve a problem with lambdas, tell the other half to solve it another way, and see who finishes first. That’s exactly the kind of solution I’m supposed to be good at thinking of.

And yet here I am, getting suckered by clever arguments and anecdotal evidence. The thought of experimentally testing this belief never even crossed my mind.

Anyway, that’s how a software engineering conference made me stop feeling smugly superior to everybody who failed to invent science.

(Here’s the paper.)