Definitions

cargo cult

cargo cult

cargo cult, native religious movement found in Melanesia and New Guinea, holding that at the millennium the spirits of the dead will return and bring with them cargoes of modern goods for distribution among its adherents. The cult had its beginnings in the 19th cent. and received great impetus from World War II, when the Western armed forces littered the islands with surplus cargo. The cult aims to restore a past time and to regain the goodwill of ancestors who are being lured into giving cargo to the white foreigners, cargo originally intended for the native Melanesians. Cargo cults are revivalistic, in that the adherents expect the restoration of a golden age in which they will be reunited with their ancestors, and nativistic (see nativism), in that the whites are to be driven away. However, as the cargo is composed principally of European goods, and native goods and rituals are abandoned, both the nativistic and revivalistic aspects of cargo cults are qualified by a strong motive toward acculturation.

Any religious movement based on the observation by local residents of the delivery of supplies by ship and aircraft to colonial officials. Cargo cults were observed chiefly in Melanesia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were characterized by the expectation of a new age of blessing and prosperity to be initiated by the arrival of a special “cargo” of goods from supernatural sources. Such beliefs may have expressed traditional millennial ideas, often revived by the teaching of Christian missions.

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Cargo cult programming is a style of computer programming that is characterized by the ritual inclusion of code or program structures that serve no real purpose. Cargo cult programming is typically symptomatic of a programmer not understanding either the bug they were attempting to solve or the apparent solution (compare shotgun debugging, voodoo programming).

Cargo cult programming can also refer to the results of (over-)applying a design principle blindly without understanding the reasons behind that design principle in the first place. An example would be a novice being taught that commenting code is good, and then adding comments for lines that are self-explanatory or need no comment; other examples involve overly complex use of design patterns or certain forms of coding style.

The term 'cargo cult', as an idiom, originally referred to aboriginal religions which grew up in the South Pacific after World War II. The practices of these groups centered on building elaborate mock-ups of airplanes and military landing strips in the hope of summoning the god-like airplanes that had brought marvelous cargo during the war. Use of the term in computer programming probably derives from Richard Feynman's characterization of certain practices as "cargo cult science".

Cargo cult software engineering

A related term in software engineering is cargo cult software engineering, coined by Steve McConnell.

McConnell describes software development organizations that attempt to emulate more successful development houses, either by slavishly following a software development process, or by taking a commitment oriented development approach.

In both cases, McConnell contends that competence ultimately determines whether a project succeeds or fails, regardless of the development approach taken; furthermore, he claims that incompetent "impostor organizations", that merely imitate the form of successful software development organizations are, in fact, engaging, in what he calls Cargo cult software engineering.

See also

References

Further reading

  • Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Richard Feynman, W. W. Norton & Co, New York, 1985, ISBN 0-393-01921-7. One of the chapters is the transcript of a 1974 Caltech commencement address, which contained the coining of "Cargo cult science".
  • Cargo Cult Science, by Richard P. Feynman Article based on his 1974 Caltech Commencement address, with pictures, as originally published in Engineering and Science, Volume 37:7, June 1974. Digitized version from Caltech Library, retrieved June 20, 2007

External links

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