r, K, and professionalism

Dave Long dl@silcom.com
Wed, 21 Nov 2001 11:14:30 -0800

There have been two complementary
points raised in this thread:

A. Professions limit entry rates
B. Professions limit failure rates

Holding those points in mind, let
us examine ecological strategies:
just as there are species that have
thousands of young (of which maybe
two will survive until reproduction,
on average), there are also species
which have a small number of young
(of which maybe two will survive
until reproduction, on average).

In the first case, the parents can
diversify their risk in uncertain
environments by making only small
investments in many offspring.

In the second case, the parents can
increase chances of success in a
certain environment by investing a
large amount in a few offspring.*

Reducing birth rates in order to
reduce death rates is a hallmark
of K-selected reproduction, and
accepting large numbers of cheap
failures is one of r-selection.

Since software is, by and large,
an r-selected industry, we should
expect that IT people would be as
professional as, say, dressmakers.


* Clemens & Carnegie said "put all
  your eggs in one basket, and then
  Watch That Basket"  Why should we
  expect that if a number of people
  choose an undiversified strategy,
  one or two of them will encounter
  a hugely successful outcome?


In the recent past, the professions
were what younger sons did.  Lawyers,
Doctors, Priests, and Officers are
found in Freeman's biography of Lee:

> By the end of 1823 he had completed the course of study at
> the academy.  What should he do next?  It was a question not
> easily answered.  He could not continue to follow cultural
> study and settle down as a country-gentleman, because he
> did not have money for the education, much less the land on
> which to live in leisure.  He possessed no aptitude for public
> utterance and no taste for the law.  He had never presented
> himself for confirmation and he probably never gave a thought
> to the ministry.  There is no record that he ever debated the
> possibilities of a medical career, despite his contact with
> the sick and his growing skill in nursing.  ... Why should
> not Robert go to the United States Military Academy at West
> Point and be a soldier?  His love of mathematics would help;
> his education would cost him nothing.

Perhaps those who desire to be called
"professional" should reread Weber.

(and perhaps the lack of independent
incomes causes some modern lawyers
and doctors to cultivate a grubbing