Arguments and Discussions…learning the rules

I was struck by something that commenter Erin mentioned in response to my post about data that I hate.   She ended her comments with this:

I teach this stuff to my AP students…I love trying to get them to understand how to break apart political rhetoric and other arguments around them. I figure even if we disagree wildly in politics or social issues, at least I’ll have an intelligent opponent to argue with someday. 

I like that, because I fully endorse that approach to life.  That’s part of why I wanted to do a blog like this.  Quite some time ago, the Assistant Village Idiot put up a post I liked very much (and can’t find now…circa 2007?) about how far too many people treated their political opinions as though they were defense lawyers….never giving an inch, never admitting that anything they had said or cited could be wrong or skewed.  This makes lots of people defend really stupid things.

In my office, this flowchart hangs just to the right of my computer:

I often have fantasies of taking it down during debates and serenely handing it to the other person whilst telling them to try again.  Sadly, I have never done this.  The fantasy keeps me going some days though, doubly so in political debates.
Though I’m probably preaching to the choir hear, I feel the need to state for the record:  Just because something you cited is wrong does not mean you are wrong.  You can keep your belief while also admitting that something that agrees with you is a load of crap.  That actually makes you a better person, not a worse one.  This is not an April fools joke, people actually can operate like this.

Blog Rules

Thanks to some links from the kind people at Assistant Village Idiot  and Maxed Out Mama, I have gotten a bit more traffic than I expected in the past two days.  As such, I realized it might be a good moment to spell out some of the rules for this blog I’ve had bouncing around in my head.  These are rules for me really, not for commenters, as no one can hope to tame the internet:

  1. I will try my best to provide a link for every study I cite, and this link will get as close to source data as possible.  Nothing drives me crazier than reading about “new research” with absolutely no clue as to where to find it.  I spent almost 20 minutes trying to find where the heck Jack Cafferty got his numbers for this article, and it made me mad.  I won’t do that to you.  And here are the numbers he reported on, as a sign of good faith.
  2. I will attempt to remain non-partisan. I have political opinions.  Lots of them.  But really, I’m not here to try to go after one party or another.  They both fall victim to bad data, and lots of people do it outside of politics too.  Lots of smart people have political blogs, and I like reading them…I just don’t feel I’d be a good person to run one.  My point is not to change people’s minds about issues, but to at least trip the warning light that they may be supporting themselves with crap.  That being said, if I start to lean to far to one side, smack me back to center.
  3. I will admit that I will probably fail at #2, and have lots of other biases as well.  What, you thought I was going to claim to be neutral?  No special snowflake here, we humans can’t help ourselves.
  4. I will, when I can, declare those biases up front.  When I review a study on changing last names, I think it’s relevant that I didn’t change mine.  When mentioning healthcare reform, I think it’s relevant that I live in the one state in the nation that won’t be affected by it either way.  It makes it easier 
  5. I will attempt to explain all stats words that are used.  I am not a stats teacher, I am just someone who uses a lot of data to get a job done.  I would love to do more than just preach to the choir, and thus I will try not to have any prereqs for this class.  For the very smart commenters I have here, this may get tedious, but bear with me.
  6. I will try to improve my use of apostrophe’s.  I’m really not good at those.
  7. Suggestions always welcome.  The internet is awesome because I get to learn from smart people I normally wouldn’t meet.