‘An illiterate disgrace’: Richard Dawkins writes scathing review of Amazon instruction manual

0


It’s not just people labouring under the “God Delusion” who provoke the ire of Professor Richard Dawkins. The outspoken atheist has launched a furious rant at Amazon over an instruction manual he described as an “illiterate disgrace”.

The evolutionary biologist, who once described The Bible as a “chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents”, posted a scathing customer review of another fallible guide to human behaviour – the instructions accompanying his $31.19 purchase, “AmazonBasics USB 2.0 8x DVD Writer External Optical Drive (Black).”

The “appallingly bad” manual was a “disgrace, and alone is enough to merit the minimum possible number of stars,” Dawkins wrote.

Urging Amazon to “please hire somebody who knows how to write at least ONE human language, to write your instruction manuals,” in a Tweet linking to his review, Prof Dawkins began by dissecting the exhortation to “Terminate software program used on optional drive.”

Written By: Adam Sherwin | The Independent
continue to source article at independent.co.uk

NO COMMENTS

  1. You’re a boy, Richard: you’re not meant to read the manual. You’re supposed to toss that thing aside, roll up your sleeves, spit, and then dive in and figure it out using manly common sense.

    Then, several hours later, when your missus has left the house in disgust and the pets are hiding from you because they think your expletives are intended for them, with a vein popping in your forehead you get on the phone and through gritted teeth arrange for somebody to come out and set the DVD writer up for you.

    Which, given your status and book sales, is what you probably should have done from the get-go:

    Lord Finchley tried to mend the Electric Light

    Himself. It struck him dead: And serve him right!

    It is the business of the wealthy man

    To give employment to the artisan.

  2. Not sure why Richard Dawkins should get upset about this. It’s consumer and supplier evolution in practise.

    Just as in biological systems, economic parasites and predators opportunistically emerge by adopting desirable forms for camouflage or to attract prey. They depend for their success on there being very much larger numbers of the genuine article, like at Amazon, where they can blend in unnoticed.

    The behaviour of the prey doesn’t change until the extent of information disruption and economic predation becomes significant enough to be a selection driver. This is more or less how hidden inflation and consequential financial crasher occur when monetary tokens proliferate in an environment of real but otherwise indistinguishable money.

    Selection drivers that might modify behavioural responses can only work through their affect on the reproductive potential of the relevant organisms or market participants. Which means it would be more effective to threaten to cut their balls off.

  3. Erm…should we be worried about professor dawkins? This is the second rather strange and out of character venting in a month (see the posting here about aircraft displaying the temperature etc. outside)

  4. “at least one human language..”

    Such mastery of words!
    My husband and I stand baffled in front of the oven, reading and rereading the instruction manual in order to turn off the timer. We finally succeed, though I have no idea how!

  5. What would possess a writer of a tech column to make a news story out of this? Famous guy who’s fame is not due to computer software writes disapproving review in Amazon about the manual for a computer product. That’s…. just not really newsworthy.

    • In reply to #6 by Steven Mading:

      What would possess a writer of a tech column to make a news story out of this? Famous guy who’s fame is not due to computer software writes disapproving review in Amazon about the manual for a computer product. That’s…. just not really newsworthy.

      Agreed. What’s even more ridiculous is that the author went on about Dawkins’ views about religion, which was both hyperbolic and completely irrelevant.

    • In reply to #6 by Steven Mading:

      What would possess a writer of a tech column to make a news story out of this? Famous guy who’s fame is not due to computer software writes disapproving review in Amazon about the manual for a computer product. That’s…. just not really newsworthy.

      I hope the “who’s fame” was meant to be ironic. :)

  6. What?.. You no rike instruction manual?… You crazy man!! Good book, write by good emproyee at People Repubric of China factory. You say learn proper grammar? Why? Emproyee already know engrish… he no need. Stop complain. NO, I no see your cat. No more criticize, I send goose after you, she bite!!!

    • In reply to #7 by NearlyNakedApe:

      What?.. You no rike instruction manual?… You crazy man!! Good book, write by good emproyee at People Repubric of China factory. You say learn proper grammar? Why? Emproyee already know engrish… he no need. Stop complain. NO, I no see your cat. No more criticize, I send goose after you, she bite!…

      That’s more than a little racist. Really?

      • In reply to #8 by alf1200:

        In reply to #7 by NearlyNakedApe:

        What?.. You no rike instruction manual?… You crazy man!! Good book, write by good emproyee at People Repubric of China factory. You say learn proper grammar? Why? Emproyee already know engrish… he no need. Stop complain. NO, I no see your cat. No more criticize…

        That’s more than a little racist. Really?

        Well, if we’re going to point out stuff like that, then I’d like to point out that the very first comment is unabashedly sexist and not a little misandrist. But:

        A) I don’t think Katy Cordeth really is a sexist or a misandrist.

        B) It was clearly meant in jest.

        C) Making jokes about somebody is not automatic proof that they have unflattering views about the subject of the joke, so much as they like to make fun of the stereotypes people hold about them. Another example of a joke not necessarily being condescending is self-deprecating humour.

        D) It was still hilarious.

    • In reply to #7 by NearlyNakedApe:

      What?.. You no rike instruction manual?… You crazy man!! Good book, write by good emproyee at People Repubric of China factory. You say learn proper grammar? Why? Emproyee already know engrish… he no need. Stop complain. NO, I no see your cat. No more criticize, I send goose after you, she bite!…

      I can bet there are roughly as many people in China as there are in UK who can write proper English. They went to universities, they ask for the high wage of 1.5$/hour, therefore they(we?) prefer the 1.38$/hour technical writers.

      • In reply to #13 by GOD:s
        Chinese people are far more educated than Americans. How many people speak Chinese in the US that are not of Chinese descent?
        Far more Chinese speak English.

        In reply to #7 by NearlyNakedApe:

        What?.. You no rike instruction manual?… You crazy man!! Good book, write by good emproyee at People Repubric of China factory. You say learn proper grammar? Why? Emproyee already know engrish… he no need. Stop complain. NO, I no see your cat. No more criticize…

    • In reply to #7 by NearlyNakedApe:

      What?.. You no rike instruction manual?… You crazy man!! Good book, write by good emproyee at People Repubric of China factory. You say learn proper grammar? Why? Emproyee already know engrish… he no need. Stop complain. NO, I no see your cat. No more criticize, I send goose after you, she bite!…

      Jeeze people it was a joke, and a very funny one at that. Racists, of course. But absolutely hilarious. Like the comment about hillbillies being inbred. I thought that was funny too, and I’m a hillbilly. Lay off already. Or better yet, laugh it off.

  7. This is one of my peeves. I rewrite manuals and send them back to the manufacturers most often when the author was Chinese. The most annoying thing makers of computer programs do is this. I explain how something is ambiguous, a button might mean either keep the file or destroy it. I give them replacement unambiguous wording. They write back “It is not ambiguous if you look at it this way. There is nothing to fix, you foolish man.”

    • In reply to #12 by mirandaceleste:

      The Independent must be having a slow news day o_0

      The Indy is always having a slow news day, since they went bust, got bought by a Russian Oligarch for £1, and fired pretty well all the decent writers, sub-editors, proof-readers and editors. They are now staffed almost entirely by interns on a work experience scheme who have to produce 12 articles a day or they are out on their ear and another idiot takes their place.

      Which is somewhat like how Russians got their troops to the front at Stalingrad, come to think of it.

      The Indy’s circulation is down from a peak of some 400,000 to about 70,000 (although the much cheaper “i” title is doing about 300,000). For web purposes both titles are combined, hence the increasingly “tabloid” content of the website.

  8. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Prof’ Dawkins. There are a vast number really good products, hardware, software which are ruined because the manufacturer just could not be brothered to write any decent instructions. I wrote some technical manuals many years ago, which even non-technical people found them interesting to read, but was criticised for wasting time getting the facts pedantically right. Tee shirts described as small, medium, large, and every brand has a different idea of what those words mean. For fcuk sake, why no state the chest size in centimetres, or even inches if you must. Any software that come with the instructions ‘put the disk in the computer and follow the instructions…” should go goes straight in the bin with a zero rating. not good enough! (this is one rant I will not apologise for.)

    And another thing, badly written manuals often disgise the fact that the products are badly designed. Must go now, the men in the white cotes are knocking on my door.

    • In reply to #15 by old-toy-boy:

      Any software that come with the instructions ‘put the disk in the computer and follow the instructions…” should go goes straight in the bin

      I prefer the “put the disk in the computer and see what happens” approach. No manual is better than a naff one. Then when it does something weird, google for whatever idiotic phrase it reports. Along with the make/model number/version if you have it and want to be pedantic. You get dozens of hits on postings from fellow sufferers, one of whom gets a response from somebody who actually knows how to fix it. Problem solved. Crowdsourced documentation, the way of the future…

    • In reply to #15 by old-toy-boy:

      Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Prof’ Dawkins. There are a vast number really good products, hardware, software which are ruined because the manufacturer just could not be brothered to write any decent instructions. I wrote some technical manuals many years ago, which even non-technical people foun…

      As one who works in the software industry (not academia, but industry) for a very long time, I have to disagree. Instead of cutting trees for user manuals that become obsolete overnight, it’s just fine to follow the on-screen instructions. And the technical writers should not deplore this, assuming they are the ones writing the instructions.

  9. Reading the comments here and elsewhere, I think a lot of people are failing to see the element of humour in Richard’s review.

    I have never understood why incredibly wealthy companies don’t make the effort to produce clear and legible instructions for their products. They must lose so many sales because people are put off buying their goods when they know it will be such a faff trying to work out how to use them.

    People should complain more often and more vigorously than they do (not natural for us Englishmen, but let’s make the effort). If nobody ever complains about things, they’ll never get fixed.

  10. Surely you just connect the USB cable to the computer and the power cable to the drive, and it works.

    Reading the manual will just confuse matters.

    Unless Richard is using Windows 95, or Linux, in which case Plug & Play becomes Plug & Pray.

    • In reply to #18 by Krasny:

      Surely you just connect the USB cable to the computer and the power cable to the drive, and it works.

      Reading the manual will just confuse matters.

      Unless Richard is using Windows 95, or Linux, in which case Plug & Play becomes Plug & Pray.

      You seem to have dated knowledge of Linux. Provided you’ve checked the device has drivers ( c.f. ), you just plug it in and it works in almost all cases. I haven’t needed to supply a config parameter to make things work for more than ten years. In some cases, the drivers are better than those supplied for Windows, e.g. when those’re bloated with lots of extra gubbins most people don’t need.

  11. Um, just to be a touch critical, Amazon don’t actually make the drive, Agreed, they could possibly pay a little more attention to the quality of the documentation coming from the manufacturer since it may well reflect on Amazon’s good name.

    As for Richard having a rant about it, well he has demonstrated a deep love of the English language, so I can forgive him for getting a bit bent over arrant butchery of the same occasionally.

  12. As a big fan of Dawkins, I have to say; I love the fact that, despite his achievements, his scholarly reputation, his body of work regarding evolutionary biology, and his bibliography of best-selling books… Grandpa STILL can’t get the VCR to stop flashing 12:00…12:00…12:00…

    • In reply to #22 by Deus Otiosus:

      As a big fan of Dawkins, I have to say; I love the fact that, despite his achievements, his scholarly reputation, his body of work regarding evolutionary biology, and his bibliography of best-selling books… Grandpa STILL can’t get the VCR to stop flashing 12:00…12:00…12:00…

      This was not a rant about the device being hard to use. It was a rant about the instructions being so badly written they actually told you to do something really unnecessary and labor-intensive (and in the case of a laptop, actually damaging if you tried), and after all that labor if you followed the instructions, you would have disabled part of your computer unrelated to the thing you’ve bought. If Richard wasn’t smart enough to know how to use the device, he wouldn’t have realized the instructions cannot possibly be right the way they are written. It was tech understanding that CAUSED the ability to realize the instructions must be incorrect as written.

  13. Richard,

    I had a good laugh at this article and your Amazon.com review. The illiteracy in the world of English-speakers is hilariously appalling. On nearly a daily basis, my brother reposts egregious spelling/grammar errors (some of which he finds in The New York Times) on his Facebook page. You and he would have a lot to talk about, and I don’t mean because both of you are atheists! :)

    It really scares me how many people use an apostrophe when indicating a plural. It scares me even more how often these errors are on websites of professional organizations. There are too many of these to be simple typographical errors!

    • In reply to #25 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

      Richard,

      I had a good laugh at this article and your Amazon.com review. The illiteracy in the world of English-speakers is hilariously appalling. On nearly a daily basis, my brother reposts egregious spelling/grammar errors (some of which he finds in The New York Times) on his Facebook page. You and he would have a lot to talk about, and I don’t mean because both of you are atheists! :)

      I’m sorry, but I loathe grammar bullies. It is annoying when instructions are difficult to read, which is what Richard was taking issue with; not the general level of English usage in society.

      Your brother’s Facebook page sounds insufferably smug:

      I present for your divertissement this missive, in which a woman claims to have been rapped while walking through Central Park. Was it on her knuckles, one wonders, or did she mayhap alight upon the estimable Mr Snoop Dogg and his merry ‘posse’ during her sojourn into the environs of our beloved Metropolis’s verdant village green?

      Surely he can find a better use for his time than making fun of those whose education wasn’t up to the standard of his own.

      It really scares me how many people use an apostrophe when indicating a plural.

      You’re scared by this? Bloomberg must be doing a pretty good job if grammar mistakes feature on a list of things that frighten you.

      Look out, there’s a split infinitive behind you!!

      It scares me even more how often these errors are on websites of professional organizations. There are too many of these to be simple typographical errors!

      Are you suggesting there’s some conspiracy afoot? Damn that Bilderberg Group. What are those devils up to now?

      • In reply to #28 by Katy Cordeth:

        In reply to #25 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

        Surely he can find a better use for his time than by making fun of those whose education wasn’t up to the standard of his own.

        For crying out loud. You do realize that somebody who writes for New York Times ought to have more than a modicum of education… It’s scary that otherwise intelligent people cannot even construct a coherent sentence or even spell. This happens too often by too many people for it to be due to lack of education, or to dyslexia, or so forth.

        Are you suggesting there’s some conspiracy afoot? Damn that Bilderberg Group. What are those devils up to now?

        No. I’m suggesting that it’s ridiculous that big corporations and professional organizations– hell, sometimes even SCHOOLS– don’t know when to use an apostrophe, or when to use your/you’re and there/their/they’re etc.

  14. In reply to #29 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

    In reply to #28 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #25 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

    Surely he can find a better use for his time than by making fun of those whose education wasn’t up to the standard of his own.

    For crying out loud. You do realize that somebody who writes for New York Times ought to have more than a modicum of education…

    From your comment #25:

    On nearly a daily basis, my brother reposts egregious spelling/grammar errors (some of which he finds in The New York Times) on his Facebook page.

    I think it’s pretty lame to go through a newspaper with a fine-tooth comb looking for spelling mistakes, but if that’s what floats your brother’s boat then best of luck to the guy.

    Wait… is it fine-tooth comb or fine tooth comb? Perhaps you could ask him for me.

    Never mind.

    Yes, if writers at the New York Times make elementary spelling or grammar mistakes they should be called on it and made to take a refresher course in English.

    Wait… should that be “they should be called on it and be made to take a refresher course…”?

    You see. I think I have a pretty good command of our mother tongue: I know what the grocer’s apostrophe is, and the difference between less and fewer, and so on. But I’m all at sixes and sevens over this comment. How do you imagine someone less confident in their English usage would feel if they were to read your posts on this thread or alight on your brother’s Facebook page? That’s why I don’t like grammar puritans.

    It’s scary that otherwise intelligent people cannot even construct a coherent sentence or even spell. This happens too often by too many people for it to be due to lack of education, or to dyslexia, or so forth.

    When it’s happening too often and is done by too many people, it may signal that a sea-change is taking place. What’s incoherent to someone may be perfectly understandable to somebody else. I can’t make any sense of text speak (Christ, I sound like a fuddy-duddy. I’m flippin’ 30), but I don’t level the charge of illiteracy at those who do understand it.

    Language evolves. If it didn’t we’d all still be peppering our conversations with words like forsooth and verily, and expressions such as m’lady’s chamber and whither goest thou; and the funniest joke ever would still be Ug ug? Ug ug ug! Ug.

    Dammit that gag still works!

    Are you suggesting there’s some conspiracy afoot? Damn that Bilderberg Group. What are those devils up to now?

    No. I’m suggesting that it’s ridiculous that big corporations and professional organizations– hell, sometimes even SCHOOLS– don’t know when to use an apostrophe, or when to use your/you’re and there/their/they’re etc.

    I think I’d need to see some evidence that these SCHOOLS, or rather the educators employed by the institutions in question, given that clarity is the order of the day, are as ignorant as you say. This claim sounds fanciful

    Everyone on the planet will be speaking Chinese fifty years from now, so what does it matter anyway?

    再见

    • I think it’s pretty lame to go through a newspaper with a fine-tooth comb looking for spelling mistakes, but if that’s what floats your brother’s boat then best of luck to the guy.

      He doesn’t go around looking for spelling/grammar errors anymore than people looked for David Bowie’s package when they saw Labyrinth. These things just pop out at him as much as David Bowie’s package pops out (no pun intended) at people watching Labyrinth. A lot of the spelling/grammar mistakes pop out at me too. I’m not even talking about occasional typos or very subtle mistakes. I’m talking about glaringly obvious mistakes. And, yes, I did see one one a school website about five or six years ago (fortunately it has since been corrected, and it seems the entire website has even been overhauled). I forget exactly it what it was, but I seem to recall it was a case of who’s/whose.

      An overwhelming number of people making glaring mistakes is not evidence of language evolving. It is evidence of people being ignorant of proper spelling and grammar. I cringe when people write “a lot” as one word. My cousin is a READING SPECIALIST at an elementary school and she makes this mistake! For a teacher that is unacceptable!

      And for the record, I will admit that at times I make spelling/grammar mistakes, and I am glad when I am corrected on them.

      • In reply to #34 by InYourFaceNewYorker:

        And for the record, I will admit that at times I make spelling/grammar mistakes, and I am glad when I am corrected on them.

        I never correct other users’ writing errors, but in this instance am prepared to make an exception.

        The following…

        My cousin is a READING SPECIALIST at an elementary school and she makes this mistake! For a teacher that is unacceptable!

        should read…

        My cousin is a reading specialist at an elementary school and she makes this mistake! For a teacher that is unacceptable!

        All caps is an abomination untoeth the Lord. Leviticus.

  15. Most electronic devices I have bought in recent years have come with an instruction manual in several languages and also a quick set-up guide setting out pictorially or diagrammatically how to set the device up. The latter has always sufficed to get the device going, fortunately, because the instruction manual was invariably unintelligible, having been written by people who were evidently not native speakers of English or in any case not competent in the use of the language. There was a time, long before the Internet, when instruction manuals were necessary and very helpful documents, but times change.

  16. Yes, it turned out to be a simple Plug and Play, and that is what I eventually did. But surely anyone could be forgiven for hesitating, given that the very first instruction tells us to remove the internal optical disk drive from the computer. Silly of me, I know, but you see I thought that that sounded faintly as though I was supposed to remove the internal optical disk drive from the computer. Sorry to be so literal-minded, but I confess that I hesitated a few seconds before going ahead and plugging the new drive in anyway. It worked fine.

    • We are all glad that ‘It worked fine’ in the end, Professor – what would we do without without your written contributions to our cause?! (Also happy that you did not have to resort to ‘Plug and Pray’!)

      In reply to #38 by Richard Dawkins:*

      Yes, it turned out to be a simple Plug and Play, and that is what I eventually did. But surely anyone could be forgiven for hesitating, given that the very first instruction tells us to remove the internal optical disk drive from the computer. Silly of me, I know, but you see I thought that that sou…

  17. He’s a scientist and a writer.
    So he probably has reworked his writings over and over, to make sure they are understandable to the general public.

    So it’s no surprise to me that this would annoy him,even if he could have just plug and played the device.

    In the same way, I have seen language teachers get furious about a certain written text, which others would not see as bad.
    Regardless : it’s a valid point , and useful feedback.

    Feedback of any kind should be welcomed by any serious company.

    However, I don’t see why this is interesting just because Richard Dawkins wrote it.
    What’s next : the latest gossip on Richard Dawkins’ sex life ? No , get that image out of my head.

  18. Interesting. I am pleased to see some publicity given to the poor standard of technical manuals. Of course Richard Dawkins is going to use the manual first. He is not going to stick it together and hope it works by blind faith! :-) It is not nicknamed “Plug and Pray” for nothing.

    The problem is a univeral one. People the world over do not understand the complexities of translation and use Google or a dictionary.
    How, for example. would a machine translate, “Time flies like an arrow, but fruit flies like a banana?”
    Here in Wales, where we have bilingual translation into our very different celtic language on all road signs we have some hillarious mistranslations. There are a series of signs around the area of the big anglican church in the city which say “Tow away zone” in English and which are technically correct in Welsh except in the context everyone who knows Welsh slang reads them as , and I’ll be polite, “Masturbate away zone”. Some might find the location appropriate.

  19. Dude, if one of the wisest men on planet earth can’t read the manual, then I’m believing that the manual has serious problems. I had my face in enough manuals to perfectly understand the reaction.

Leave a Reply