C. Northcote Parkinson observed that it is easier for a committee to approve a nuclear power plant than a bicycle shed. Nuclear power plants are complex, and no one on a committee presumes to understand every detail. Committee members must rely on the judgment of others. But everyone understands bicycle sheds. Also, questions such as what color to paint the bike shed don’t have objective answers. And so bike sheds provoke long discussions. The term bike shed argument has come to mean a lengthy, unproductive discussion over a minor issue. See Jeff Atwood’s post Procrastination and the Bikeshed Effect.
In statistics, utility functions provoke bike shed arguments. Most statisticians agree that decision theory a good idea, but it is hardly ever used in practice because applying decision theory to any specific problem invites bike shed arguments over utility functions.
Update: See Parkinson’s Law for more on Parkinson and his book that coined the term “bike shed argument.”