15 July 2008

I'm not sure what it is about our industry that promotes the flame war, but for some reason exchanges like this one, unheard of in any other industry I've ever touched (even tangentially), are far too common, too easy to get into, and entirely too counterproductive.

I'm not going to weigh in on one side or the other here; frankly, I have a hard time following the debate and figuring out who's exactly arguing for what. I can see, however, that the entire debate follows some traditional patterns of the flame war:

  1. Citing yourself as the final authority. At no point during the debate does anybody reach for their copy of Effective Java, a widely-accepted source of Java guidance, for a potential resolution to the discussion. Instead, the various players simply say, "Fact A is true" or "Fact A is false", with zero supporting information, citations, or demonstrations either way. (A few people cite the Javadoc, but there is enough ambiguity there to merit further citation.)
  2. Refusal to accept the possibility of an alternative viewpoint. At no point, near as I can tell, did any of the participants bother to say, "You know, you could be right, but I remain unconvinced. Can you give me more information to support your point of view?" The entire time, everybody is arguing from "fact", and nobody even considers the possibility that different JVMs can have different implementations, despite the fact that the Javadoc being quoted says as much.
  3. Degeneration into personal attacks. I don't care who started it, I don't care who called who the worse name. Fact is, reasonable people can reasonably disagree, and nobody in that transcript seemed overly reasonable to me.
  4. Nobody ever really gets around to answering the question because they're too busy arguing their position or point. Poor "doub", the initiator of the question, tries valiantly to circle the conversation back on topic, but the various players are too busy whipping out their instruments of manhood onto the table so everybody can see how much bigger it is than the other guys'. When "doub" points out that writing some sample code "gave me a very loose but still usefull information about my object, and took less time than the conversation about my question :-)", or in other words, "Hey, guys, I kinda already got my answer, can we move on now?", the conversation continues as if the comment never occurred--the question has turned into a "biggest-geek" argument by this point. "doub" even asks, at 10:12:12, "do i get bad karma points for being the initiator of a conflict?", and the image I get in my head is that of the poor kid, hiding in his bedroom while his parents yell and scream downstairs, feeling awful because the fight started over his backpack lying in the hallway where Mom told him to put it and Dad thought he left it instead of putting it away. ("doub", if you read this, no, you get no bad karma points, at least not in my universe.)

The interesting thing, though, is that this conversation has nothing to do with Scala. "dysinger" twitters:

Frankly, "dysinger", it's kinda hard to have much sympathy for somebody when they blame the language or tool for a conversation that's had around it; this would be like blaming Python, the language, for the community around it (which some people do, I understand). I can understand the frustration, on both sides, since everybody was essentially arguing past one another, but why is that Scala's fault, pray tell?

And frankly, I find the dig at the academics to be a tad disingenuous. Yes, academics have a reputation--duly earned in some cases--of being removed from reality and the slings and arrows of a life spent developing software for production environments, but name for me a language in the popular mainstream that doesn't owe a huge debt to the preliminary work laid down by academics before it. In every other industry, academics are revered and honored--it's only in this industry they are used as an example of degradation and insult. Way to bite the hand that makes your life easier, folks....

At the end of the day, these kind of debates do nothing but harm the innocent, "doub", in this case. "dysinger", "DrMacIver", "JamesIry", all of you, right or wrong, didn't exactly cover yourselves in glory, nor did you really convince anybody of anything. Instead, you shouted at each other really loudly, made lots of noise, got angry over nothing in particular, and really failed to achieve much of anything. Regardless of your intentions, now Scala, Java, the JVM and the entire ecosystem have seen their reputation tarnished just a touch more than it was when you started. Great job.

Here's a tip for all of you: Try listening.

Tags: java   languages   industry   jvm  

Last modified 15 July 2008