Fanboys

Marco Arment has this to say:

fan•boy |ˈfanˌboi|

noun

  1. informal derogatory: a term used to describe people who bought a product that competes with the one you bought, which is probably more popular than your choice, for reasons that you wish to discredit or diminish because you’re secretly afraid or upset that you made the wrong choice.

ORIGIN from fan + boy.

Several things irritate me about this. For a start, the pretence that it is about anything other than Apple fanboyism. Does this definition apply to the Kirk vs. Picard debate? If my buddy says that GNU Hurd is better than Linux, and I say he’s a fanboy, is that because I’m secretly worried that Hurd might be a better OS kernel? Of course not, this is about Marco defending himself and others like him against their critics. Strip away the aura of objectivity and it’s just an ad hominem. Admittedly one aimed at defending against another ad hominem, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

Like it or not, fans exist. A lot of them are boys. Conflating the two into a convenient label might be lazy, but it seems prima facie to be a valid term.

But I think there’s a deeper meaning to the charge of fanboyism, and one that would leave us all slightly poorer if we were to attempt to excise the concept from our consciousness. The fact is, we’re very bad at basing our conclusions on the evidence. Much worse than we think we are. If you think you don’t have biases in your reasoning based on particular companies, ideas or causes you have a soft spot for then you’re probably deluding yourself. One particular facet of this is confirmation bias: the tendency to give more weight to evidence that supports the conclusions you already believe. It seems to me that this is pretty close to what we mean when we dismiss someone as a fanboy.

Accusing someone of fanboyism may be lazy, and it may be overused. But there’s a difference between the fallacy of ad hominem argument and a rational accusation that someone is suffering from confirmation bias. If Marco’s suggesting that the distinction doesn’t matter then he’s dead wrong.

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