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Apr 12, 2008 02:43 PM

"Conventional wisdom" and the importance of dissenting opinions


I'm citing this post:

Carty says:
"Those of us who read ChowBos obsessively develop a notion of the board’s conventional wisdom, and that conventional wisdom reinforces itself. This is a *wonderful* resource but a bit of an echo chamber at times.

I’ve had some mediocre experiences at Neptune Oyster e.g. and this board makes be feel like I should be on medication."

"Conventional wisdom" can be self-reinforcing on many boards, and it is not a good thing.

It is crucial for hounds to (1) provide their frank opinions, especially if it runs counter to the tide and (2) be accepting of all opinions, and especially encourage posts that disagree with oneself. (Of course, posting in a friendly manner helps to get your message across.) The alternative is a sterile board dominated by groupthink, where certain opinions, by some twist of fate, get perpetuated as fact. And you get stuck with eating at the same places over and over again. That's chowhound hell (or chowhound purgatory).

It's obvious that this is bad because the diversity of opinions is reduced. I cringe everytime I read someone say "I know I'm going to flamed for this but...(insert opinion here)" -- that shouldn't be necessary. We should be able to just state our opinions and not have to go through some long debate to defend it. That's important because if hounds are afraid to speak up it deprives everyone of a source of opinion.

Also, we can't afford to be smug about the few delicious places we've been to; they may not always stay delicious; and even if they do there's always a need to find even better ones! It's counterintuitive, but trying out places that are not recommended (preferably never even mentioned) is just as if not more important than going to places that have an established record.

  1. Thanks for this insightful post.

    It is funny how "conventional wisdom" gets established on a site that purports to encourage searching out the new and the unknown. It is too easy to get into a rut.

    "It is crucial for hounds to (1) provide their frank opinions, especially if it runs counter to the tide and (2) be accepting of all opinions, and especially encourage posts that disagree with oneself. (Of course, posting in a friendly manner helps to get your message across.) "

    I really agree with this statement. Sometimes it is hard to see a post that disagrees with my personal point of view. But I am trying to see this as an opportunity to learn, and to be more tolerant of others. I agree that this is necessary to keep this board current, active and useful.

    We have a lot of very passionate, opinionated people on this board, which is both a strength and a weakness. It can lead to a lot of spirited debate. I enjoy debates, but others may be intimidated by these discussions. I suspect there are a lot of people who lurk, but don't dare post for fear of being bullied off the board if they don't buy into what they perceive as "conventional wisdom".

    Some posters are less diplomatic in their style of posting, and some posters may be more sensitive to what they perceive as criticism. I don't know how you can get rid of the jerks in the world, and I don't know how you can convince someone that a post with a contradictory point of view is not a personal attack. But your post is a nice reminder to all of us to try to be a little more understanding or each other. Thanks Limster. Eat well tonight!

    3 Replies
    1. re: moh

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Re: criticism -- It's important to remember that a criticism of a restaurant that a person likes is NOT a criticism of the person. Thus we shouldn't take it personally when someone hates a restaurant that we love. Nobody's perfect. No restaurant is perfect. Thus it's really important to agree to disagree.

      1. re: moh

        Great discussion.

        I tend to rein in my very opinionated self at times because my dislike of certain places in my home area is based on personal preferences that are of no concern to many board members.

        I'm not enough of a Chowhound to eat in a place owned by someone I consider to be bad for my community. Atmosphere is important to me and I avoid places where I can't converse with my tablemates. I've yet to eat in a food factory (chain restaurant) that I like. I will no longer go to places headed by two very popular chefs because the service is so bad in their establishments.

        I will express these opinions from time to time but I would be a tiring bore if I jumped in every time a certain chain or chef were mentioned.

        On disagreeing with critics, I will jump in when someone hasn't given a place a fair try because they ordered wrong or were in the wrong place for what they wanted. My husband is notorious for ordering things that are not a restaurant's strong point and then expressing disappointment with the restaurant.

        For example, a couple of weeks ago we joined friends at their favorite Irish pub. The place is known for Irish breakfast, fish & chips and melted cheese sandwiches. He ordered a burger and was less than pleased.

        As far as jumping on the bandwagon, I do find I like pet places discovered by our local hounds. If I don't, I'll often wait to be the dissenting voice because I respect their opinion and want to make a couple of visits to see if I missed what they found.

        1. re: BostonZest

          "I tend to rein in my very opinionated self at times because my dislike of certain places in my home area is based on personal preferences that are of no concern to many board members."

          Bostonzest, you recognize something that I have been struggling to understand myself, and you are helping me to clarify my thinking. We are all very opinionated. That's what makes this site fun! We are passionate about good food, but that passion manifests itself in many different ways. The key phrase for me is "my dislike of certain places... is based on personal preference". Thank you for that statement. I think it could cover about 90% of the posts on this and many boards of this nature.

          We all have personal preference. The more we recognize that most of our opinions are about personal preference and not some unshakeable truth or fact, the more likely we are to be accepting of different points of view.

          So bring on the differing opinions! Tell me why people disagree with me, try to convince me to see it in another way. But don't make me feel like I am mentally challenged or "should be on medication" because I can't see that others are right and I am wrong. In particular, don't imply that I couldn't possible be correct since everyone else agrees with "conventional wisdom".

          If I say that there are 51 states in the U.S., sure go ahead and let me know I'm wrong in a polite way (although some would argue that Canada is essentially a 51st state :) This is a fact. If I say "Vermont is a really great place to live" and you disagree, fine, but please avoid telling me that "Everyone expert in the field agrees with me that Ohio is way better, how could you possible think this?" Because this is not an undisputable fact.

          I'm very happy to see strong opinion. But too often, opinion is disguised as "fact" or "truth" and that if you don't agree with it, it must mean you are not "chowhoundish" enough. There is an implied inferiority. It would be nice to avoid this kind of thing. But maybe not possible....

          Still, I think it is always good to be reminded to "post in a friendly manner". Makes it less confrontational, and encourages discussion.

          I sometimes wonder what would happen if you brought all these personalities together to discuss all these topics over a nice meal. Would people be more diplomatic because they are eating together? Somehow, I think we'd just get into a huge argument about what we'd have for the nice meal. Oddly enough, this makes me smile! Sometimes you need to argue about silly little things like what to eat,and forget about all the serious problems out there. It's such a fun luxury to get into a snit because Poster X called you a moron for recommending the beef at Restaurant Y.

          Chowhound = Food = Fun

      2. Do you think that certain smugness and taking a dissenting opinion as an affront is more likely to happen in some regions than others?

        1 Reply
        1. re: three of us

          It not something overwhelming but I see it sporadically (hence I wrote "can be" rather than "is"). Nevertheless, prevention is better than cure; I doubt that there's a serious problem, but since we can foresee some of it, it's important to be immunized against the possibility.

        2. I recently recommended a place on one of the international boards (not one I frequent often). It's a restaurant I rate highly and have visited more than once.

          Almost immediately, there was a response from a regular poster on that board stating that "the locals" do not rate the place highly. As I understand it, the poster is not "a local" but is a regular visitor from America. No *evidence* was offered as to it being not rated highly, only a vague wave of the hand in the direction of ingredients not being as good as other places. Oh, and it being expensive.

          I suspect, however, the member's posting frequency and perceived knowledge/authoritywill mean her/his view will carry weight as the "conventional wisdom" and other Americans will not try my recommendation.

          Do I care? Not for one second!

          It means that American visitors will continue to go to the same small group of regularly touted places. More importantly to me, it means them staying away means I find it easier to get a table. It also means I'll pass on the next time someone asks for a similar recc. on that board.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Harters

            I totally feel your annoyance, as this has happened to me, as well. In reference to the post that limster made in regards to people getting upset about negative posts that people take too personal, I offer this: Some people question themselves if others disagree with their likes and dislikes. My brother is a perfect example. He will start out liking something, but if enough people close to him begin bashing his beliefs, he begins to also waver in his once-high opinion. Not everyone is like this, I know- but i've run into enough hyper-sensitive people in my life to know some just can't handle ANYTHING that makes them doubt themselves, or disagrees with them. *sigh* It can be very trying, to say the least.

            Being polite and well thought-out makes me consider someone's posts alot more than rabble-rousing about whatever drama of the moment is. Provacative posts ARE good (okay, the current urine one is a tad gross, but still interesting!) and can make people think. Thinking is a good thing!

          2. So true. I've seen this actually more on the Not About Food Board than any of the other boards and it can get quite ugly -- like you must be a horrible monster for tipping only 15%, or you must be a really selfish person because you save a seat, etc. I think it gets uglier when the attacks at people are not really about restaurants but about personal philosophies relating to food. I find it quite ironic how a lot of people don't use a lot of etiquette towards other posters when posting about food etiquette.

            And pertaining to the food -- yes, I've seen posters getting blasted because they didn't enjoy DiFara's -- like they must have done something wrong for not to have experienced pizza nirvana or that their taste buds must be reexamined. Dissenting opinions makes the board much more interesting and makes it more of a learning experience. Never liked Sanda Lee, but somebody posted how she overcame a lot of adversity to get to where she is (boy I'll bet that poster caught some flack for that). I still don't like her cooking style, but I can really respect her for what she's done. I wouldn't have known about it unless the poster went against the grain of Chowhounders hate Sandra Lee and posted that info.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Miss Needle

              but nobody doessn't like Sanda Lee

              1. re: wew

                He he. I know what you're saying is probably in jest -- or is it? ; )

                The thing is that there are enough people who like Sandra Lee for her to have her own show on Food Network. And I'll bet that some of the Sandra Lee lovers are lurkers (or maybe frequent posters) on this board but feel some trepidation sharing their views because of this "conventional Chowhound wisdom" that Sandra Lee is the anti-Christ.

                  1. re: wew

                    Maybe I've just been lucky but I've never had anyone flame or blast me for saying I like a particular place, either on my home board of Western Canada or on the SF and Bay area board which I read a lot and post on less. I have had the odd comment to the effect that certain CHers are less enamoured of the chow in a place I mentioned (eg) my love affair with Cafe de la presse in San Francisco, CA. I took no offense whatever, because a) that input may help someone else decide whether to eat there for dinner, say, as I only go for brekky and b) ain't nobody talking me out of chow I like 'cept for my own tummy/tastebuds. If I go back and things go bad, I rethink. Which leads me back to the OPs comments about not being smug about our favourites: things can change, so it's incumbent to stay current by resampling places you like while also trying out new places to expand the CH palate for all, potentially taking one for the team if you will. It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it :-). My biggest chow problem is balancing the new with the old, oh yeah, and not breaking the bank balance while I'm at it!

            2. It is indeed important to provide opinions of all sorts - that's what makes this a treasure trove. I think that it's also important to make sure that where you're coming from is part of your write-up. It lets people understand better why you may feel the way you do. If you don't like sushi at a place that the conventional wisdom says is great, but you state that you are really a beginner to sushi, or that you've done very little omakase at high-end places, those are important differentials. And it's not necessarily a qualitative one, you are not necessarily wrong. If others with little experience are looking for a place to try, they will take away that perhaps this is not the right place to go for a newbie - even if seasoned veterans rave about it. Your viewpoint is most likely valid for those that share your perspective or your experience.

              I do feel that this whole business of conventional wisdom comes about because we are asked the same sets of questions too often, and we respond with the same answers. People should search out past threads as much has possible before asking, and we should all refrain from answering with the same answers, especially if we haven't actually been to a place or tried a recipe in a long time, and we are just repeating what we or someone else said the last time the question was asked.