Alexander Pope wrote, "To err is human, to forgive Divine." Today we have scientific evidence that both of his ideas were true. First, to err truly is human. Everyone errs, and error rates are comparable across a broad range of human cognitive activities. We now have theories that show why error is so universal and constant. Basically, human cognitive processes are wired to make us fast and flexible, but speed and flexibility come at a price. The very way we think makes a small rate of error inevitable. This was not a problem when we were hunter-gatherers, but in activities such as software development where we must be precise in a large number of events, the very way we think makes such precision impossible.

Regarding the idea that to forgive is Divine, we too should be forgiving. Because human error is not avoidable, it should not be considered blameful. Fagan [1976] emphasized that blaming makes people defensive and harms error detection and correction. The correct attitude is that error is inevitable and that only a stance that rejects blamefulness is likely to be effective.

One page at this website is a minipaper on general human error theory. We would urge readers to study Baars [1992] and Reason [1990] for more detail on the inevitability of human error.

This website contains a number of tables organized in the following way:

Copyright 1997-2008 Panko