Great Design Is No Joke

True or not, this joke is attributed to Abraham Lincoln:

A farmer’s young son comes running into the house.

Out of breath he says: “Pa, Pa, the hired hand and Sis are in the hayloft. The hired hand has dropped his pants and Sis has pulled up her skirt! Pa, I think they are fixin’ to pee on the hay.”

The farmer says: “Son your facts are correct, but your conclusion is all wrong.”

It is a joke because there is an unexpected bit of knowledge (data) that the listener has, but the farmer’s son does not.

As such, data can lead to conclusions, but it can also lead to incorrect conclusions. The moral of the story is that we have to be forever careful when we draw conclusions on known facts.

I often think about this joke, because the connection between correct facts and incorrect conclusions is funny (for better or worse; think blond jokes), but it is also sometimes experienced as tragedy. (Typical story line: Boy loves girl, but girl misinterpret signals and does not discover the truth until it is too late. More seriously: Wrongful death convictions.)

I know of no jokes that use incorrect facts and come to correct conclusions (although there is a history of farcical stories that uses this setting), or that use incorrect facts and come to incorrect conclusions.

Why is it so difficult to make those situations funny?

Why is it difficult to ridicule bad facts, or bad facts and bad reasoning, but it is easy to find humor in good facts and bad reasoning?

Personally, I think it is because it is possible to quickly identify one broken link, but to have to deal with many broken links instead of just one, is too difficult to quickly grasp and therefore takes too long to elicit a subsequent chuckle. I must say I also see this situation of too many broken links in quite a number of “expert” reports, and I do fail to see the humor in them. In some ways it can be characterized as a bad joke.

Oddly the concept of tragedy extends to all three options.

A critical reader of this blog might note that there is a fourth option for the connection between facts and conclusions.

That would be the case where correct data results in a correct conclusion. Again, I cannot think of any jokes that use this situation, but there is a specific name for this situation; it is called science, engineering and logic.  Does this make science, engineering and logic humorless?  I don’t know, but I do know that good science, engineering and logic is quite beautiful.

Does that mean that beauty actually is found in proper data and proper conclusions? Well, now you are really talking about great designs.

Nevertheless, I cannot think of the concept of tragedy ever occurring with correct data and correct conclusions and that is interesting by itself.

The options can actually be diagrammed as follows:

Would good design be better appreciated if it were funnier?