The excellent Dr Placebo has recently published a post on Arse Kissing, naturally it's a somewhat negative piece.
My own views on brown-nosing aren't straightforward, obviously it's not socially acceptable and can lead to some serious unpleasantness. But when you think about it, we all do it, at least a little.
I challenge anyone to tell their boss exactly what they think of them or their ideas. Nobody does. Concsiously or otherwise, people talk to everyone else with the aim of ultimately benefiting themselves. In medicine it would be unheard of for a student to openly disagree with a consultant; in every operation it's almost pro forma to complement the surgeon on their skill. Is this brown nosing?