The case against overgeneralization

I have to give a shout-out to Jon Carroll’s column today in the San Francisco Chronicle (available on SFGate, the Chronicle‘s website).

You may or may not find his primary topic–the bizarre new logo for the University of California that is no longer the bizarre new logo for UC–all that interesting. Heck, you may even love the “UC’s a hip dotcom” replacement for UC’s established, conservative, effective logo that suggests one of the world’s great universities.

That’s not why I’m giving Carroll a shout-out. Instead, it’s this (after quoting a portion of a piece from a designer complaining about the complaints about the logo, that includes this: “But throughout this controversy, no one wrote about the strategy behind the new identity. In fact, no one wrote about the identity.”)

First, a word of advice: The phrase “no one wrote about” is, in this Internet age, inevitably untrue. Somebody writes on every side of every issue. Since an individual human cannot read everything on the topic, it is almost certain that you’re going to miss something that makes your statement¬†untrue.

Once you’ve made one unsupportable claim, the other claims seem a little less convincing. This very newspaper, for instance, in its news story on the issue, quoted university officials with regard to what the thinking was behind the new branding campaign. So did other places. Perhaps the story was not covered the way Simmons would have covered it, but the issues he brings up were¬†discussed.

Emphasis added in the second quoted paragraph, to be sure–and that’s what I’d hope that some library folks given to hyperbole would pay attention to.

The rest of the column’s also good stuff, of course. (I’m admittedly biased: Carroll–who I met when we were both at UC Berkeley and who convinced me that I shouldn’t be a humor writer–is one of the reasons why we still subscribe to the San Francisco Chronicle, albeit now as a Kindle app. I think he’s one of the best writers around.)

But that’s the message. When you say “every academic library has drastically falling circulation and reference,” change that to “most libraries” and you may be right; “every” is almost certainly and demonstrably wrong. When you say “Everybody’s using smartphones as their primary computing tool” (I’ve seen variants on this) you make yourself look foolish.


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