10 May 2004

Every so often I get someone who not just disagrees with something I've said, but is also alarmed that I've said it. "When a guru like you says something, lots of people will blindly do exactly what you say".

To be honest, I find this view alarmist. There is no way I (or any other software loud-mouth) has that much influence. I don't think I've ever run into anyone who just does exactly what I say without thinking about it, they understand the LimitationsOfGeneralAdvice. Indeed even clients who've paid a lot of money for a consultant's specific advice rarely follow it (a common source of amusement or frustration for all the consultants I know.)

Having said that, it's pretty common for people for to appeal to authority when in a discussion. This doesn't necessarily mean they are just following the words of that authority. Instead "Mr X said do this" may mean:

  • Have you considered all the arguments made by X?.
  • I don't find your arguments as convincing as those made by X.
  • X describes my reasoning better than I can.

You can argue that all of this is lazy argument. Instead of appealing to X, you should go into the arguments made by X. That's fair, but often the shorthand is useful, particularly for those who find it difficult to express themselves confidently in boisterous nerd debates. It's also worth mentioning that arguments such as "I don't care what X says" are every bit as much a shorthand.