Tuesday, February 06, 2007


For two years in High School I was on the debate team. Like many things that I’ve been involved with I really enjoyed it in spite of the fact that my performance was rather lack luster. At the debating competitions each team would either be positive or negative. Positive meant that you had a position that you were to attempt to persuade the judge to accept. You could prepare your case for months ahead of time and then present your facts and your arguments to the judge. The goal of the Negative team was to show evidence that contradict the case of the Positive team. Each team had the responsibility of making sure that they made their case logically and systematically. I typically choose to be on the negative side because it was more of a challenge. We were taught how to avoid rhetoric that seemed persuasive but was logically unstable. On the negative side it was a great tool for us to locate and exploit the other team’s logical blunders. I have still kept this skill and even more so than then I enjoy picking apart politician’s and pundit’s claims when they are not following even high school debating standards.
It is important to note hear that my personal position on the subject was irrelevant to what I would say in a Negative debate role. Going into a debate it was typical that all I would know about what was going to happen was that the year’s topic was say “public education”. I could then find myself speaking out against teaching creation in school or speaking out against banning the teaching of creation. As a negative team we didn’t have the choice. This forced us to focus on picking apart their logic and even looking for and presenting facts that challenge or even go against our personal beliefs. The important thing to remember is that it was not our opinions that were being judge but our logic and our procedure.
I’ve decided to stop listening to political talk radio. For one thing I’m just sick and tired of hearing the same diatribe over and over ad nauseam. It would be one thing if they gave new information or a fresh perspective-at one time they did- but they just don’t anymore. Recently I heard one syndicated conservative host criticize every single program that the Democrats had proposed. He claimed that they were all short sighted plans without any long term goals. He then went on to decry the lack of long term planning on the liberal side of the aisle. Then when it came to another issue, global warming, he praised the conservative side’s short term approach claiming that the Democrats were being too alarmist and that no action was needed at this time. So his argument that all their claims are all too short-sighted quickly breaks down.
This host also has the opinion that global warming is actually happening but that the studies linking it to human causes are not sufficient to change our behavior. This is a very moderate approach and a smart approach that appeals to many. The scientific evidence that the climate is warming is overwhelming but the determination of cause is a greyer arena. Well last week the temperature dropped down to something like 25 degrees. He sarcastically pointed out that this cold spell must be due to global warming. By pointing to one day in one city that was lower than average temperature he expected his listeners to close the case on the whole debate. First of all this is inconsistent with his stated position on the subject. He has stated before that it is happening but that it’s just not being caused by man. If we accept his one cold day as proof that it isn’t happening he has destroyed his own position on the topic. Secondly, this argument is a logical fallacy called appeal to allegorical evidence. Just because he can tell one story to the contrary that doesn’t prove or disprove the entire claim. Two weeks ago it was in the 70s. That one day doesn’t prove that global warming is happening any more than the one day he picked proves that it isn’t. I can show you a picture of one skinny supermodel, but that doesn’t disprove the claim that Americans in general are getting fatter.
I think that some of my friends and family avoid talking about politics and controversial issues with me. Regardless of their opinions I enjoy discussing and debating just about any issue. However I tend to revert back to my debating roles and I hold their argument to high standards. Just because I may point out the logical fallacies in you argument does not necessarily mean that I personally disagree with you. On the contrary, I hold positions that I agree with to higher standards of proof. I would much rather hear a well supported logical argument that I totally disagree with personally than an emotional argument without logic for a position on which I happen to agree.

1 comment:

  1. I quit listening to talk radio all together last year when my one-way commute time dropped to 10 minutes. I realized while reading your post that I haven't missed it.

    I found it incredibly annoying that conservative talk show hosts point to the left and say they don't use logic and facts, they can only appeal to your emotion, then turn around and make up childish names. Libs, Feminazi, Welfare Brood Mare, each of these terms is used frequently by one or more of the three big conservative talk show hosts in Atlanta.

    Maybe it's time somebody started a network, or even a website, that really was fair and balanced.