Sunday, August 28, 2011

Where's your data!

There's two interesting things going on in the comments of this recent piece from the dominion post.
The first is a general theme of many comment threads I've been seeing lately, primarily on science blogs, but also all over the social/politcal blogs, and that is the preponderance of strawman arguments. Their sheer ubiquity is astounding. Pop down and have a look at comments 7 and 15 for example. In the article, Campbell Jones, a sociology lecturer at Auckland Uni, presents a commentary, putting forward the view that (as best as I can tell) currently, pretty much all of the credit for wealth creation goes to the investor, when given that nothing would happen without the employee's, it should probably be shared more evenly between the investor and the people who actually do the work. Comment's 7 and 15 pretty much come right out and say that Jones is proposing some form of
socialism. Which he's not. He's pointing out that in the past, bad
things have happened when the gap between the investors and the workers
has got to large, but that's a loooonng long way from endorsing
socialism. Which means these commenters are knowingly or otherwise arguing against a straw man. It just boggles the mind really.

The other interesting thing that's happened is primarily in the beginning of comment 15. There are a few topics where, when someone writes an opinion piece either directly having a go at or asking that we critically consider the topic, that opinion piece is then derided for having "no evidence, no data, no alternative," and being "just empty rhetoric". It's an opinion piece for crying out loud. Asking that we think about something critically, or demonstrating that there is cause to analysing something critically, is not the same as actually doing the analysis. Which is where you want the evidence. The posts that I recall most often seeing attacked this way tend to be asking us to pay attention to climate change, suggesting that religion might not have all the answers and that the whole free market thing might not actually be the best way to regulate our economies. And when someone does pop up with comments in response, with said evidence, it's normally written off by the attacker as biased and not worth paying attention to - i.e there is nothing which the attacker will accept as evidence against their position. Preaching rather than argument in essence.

For the record, they are both interesting things. They are also quite worrying/disconcerting for someone who spends most of their day assuming the people around them are actually ... engaged with the world they live in.

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