Thursday, June 07, 2007

Debate revisited

In my experience talk show hosts rarely make good debaters in a true structured debate format. Most simply don't know the process and have a hard time following it once they are taught it because it is so different from what they do on a day to day basis.
The general public has grown accustomed to the spectacles that each party airs during the election cycle calling them debates. At best they are joint press conferences. A serious analyzing of them shows too many distortions, fallacies and just plain old posturing to deserve being called a debate.
Truth be told, structured logical debates are rather lack luster and you really have to pay attention to each and every point raised and then see if the opponent can refute them. The judge when I was on my High School debate team would do exactly that. They'd take a legal pad and break it into columns. In the first column they would right down the claims made by the first team. Then in the second column they would note and refutation to the claim made by the opposing team. They would then follow up in each column with each of the rebuttals. At the end they would analyze each claim and see to which side the arguments went. Then weighing the argument by how strongly they supported one team or the other give those "points" to that team.
Without this structured approach to a debate most people walk away from anything referred to as a debate simply believing that their guy won it. Their confirmation bias counts every dig against the opponent but ignores or rationalizes away a dig against their guy.
Without their mute button for callers I have found that talk show hosts are among the worst debaters around. I've watched several of them. Whether it's Neal Bortz debating Bob Barr on medical marijuana, Sean Hannity debating Rocky Anderson on George Bush or any of a number of others that I've seen. They just have a hard time sticking to any logical process.
If you'd like to see a great debate here's a link to a debate on Intellegent design sponsored by the Cato Institute.
I subscribe to a email newsletter sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania called A quick glance of their archives will show that they are equal opportunity offenders without any political agenda. I typically wait at least a day before I pass judgement on a debate to give these guys a chance to check the facts out.
There are many people who I agree with and many that I disagree with that make great talk show hosts but are lousy debaters. I also subscribe to a few podcast of folks that are great debaters but simply aren't entertaining enough to sell the required advertising to put them on radio. So next time you hear what you believe to be a great debater seriously analyze why you feel that way. Is it just because you agree with their position? Or is it because you have seriously analyzed all of the points made and "your guy" has logically refuted all of the claims against him as well as made well supported claims against the other position that could not be defended? Just something to think about.

PS. I'm posting his while I'm at Scout Camp. I'm typing it all on a Blackberry 720 that has a keyboard that's just slightly smaller than my previous Blackberry and the special keys are all in different locations. So please excuse any glaring errors until I get near a WiFi connection and can correct them and add the hyperlinks.

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