Ill structured arguments #1: It only works if it works


Nothing about parameters or that sort of argument in this post. This is just another short rant to share.

As we all know, network based discussions (newsgroups, mailing lists, forums, etc.)* seem to encourage a much higher rate of argument than face to face discussions. For some, the fun of the argument seems to be more important than logic, and to that concept, I dedicate this (possibly) repeating rant on ill structured arguments. I'll remove the names to protect the guilty, but I'll add to the series as I run across more of these types of arguments.

The first, is the "It only works if it works" argument (feel free to offer suggestions on alternate names). To execute this argument, you wait until someone suggests a viable solution to a problem, then you chime in and say something like, "That's a viable solution to the problem, but it only works if you actually perform the viable solution - otherwise it won't work at all!".

For example, if someone is having a problem starting their car, someone may suggest that they put gas in their car - to which you could answer "Gas may be a good solution, but it's important to remember that gas only works if you actually put it in the car. Sometimes people just say they're putting gas in the car, but it doesn't actually go in the car. Unless you actually put the gas in the car, this solution is useless."

OK - so that's far fetched. Let's bring it closer to home. If someone is having problems enforcing a particular coding convention, someone may suggest that requiring peer code review may be a viable solution, to which you could reply "Peer code reviews may be a good solution, but it's important to remember that code reviews only work if you actually perform them. Sometimes people just say they're performing code reviews, but don't do them, or do them ineffectively. Unless you actually do the peer code reviews, this solution is useless."

*I won't be one of those geeks who talks about when they first posted on usenet, but I'll simply say that I've viewed network based discussions for long enough that I think I can come up with a good amount of these to share.


Comments (3)
  1. dls says:

    I’d call them ad implementum arguments. No one’s arguing that the proposed solution is flawed. At best, they’re instead arguing that it can’t or won’t be implemented while at worst they’re just making noise.

    I might be unkind enough to say that these usually seem to come from a member of middle managment distantly related to the project through at least one dotted line in the organizational chart.

  2. That was a hilarious post – left me in splits.

    I am in the middle of one such thread where one member similar to the profile dls suggests is saying that filing spec bugs to clarify the spec is a good idea but only if I file the bugs. Period.

    I might even have considered it if he had said “filed the bugs accurately OR in detail OR in a certain format OR whatever!”

    I love seeing comments like these, because it proves that these things just don’t happen to me, or that I’m not just a grumpy old man.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I haven’t "ranted" in a while (note blog title), so I thought I’d catch up in one post with the top 10

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