In response to Burr Deming's
Jesus, Paul, Obamacare, Contempt for Congress
Plus, Heathen uses charts to illustrate his data, which will horrify John Myste. And he does it as an advocate for a point of view, which makes him intellectually dishonest. I would not have believed that it demonstrated anything but intellectual diligence until my friend John explained it to me.
- Burr Deming, June 30, 2012
With or without charts, it is ignorant to present one point of view as true when one is not aware of other potentially legitimate points of view.
With or without charts, it is foolish to present one point of view as true when one is aware of alternative points of view, yet has not considered them.
With or without charts, it is dishonest to present only one point of view as true when one knows of alternative points of view that he cannot show to be false. That is deliberate concealment.
However, charts do deserve special attention for a few reasons:
Many people use charts to promote their beliefs, yet few of them genuinely derive their beliefs from those charts. This means that the charts, while presented as primary arguments, are simply convenient rhetorical tools. Thus, even if the charts are invalidated, the person who used them is unlikely to change his beliefs. He may even seek another set of charts that confirm what he wants to see. In this way, charts can obscure reasons for belief.
Charts convey a sense of authority to both the audience and the writer because they are supposed to be objective depictions of objective data. This is one of the ways in which they are useful rhetorical tools. Unfortunately, charts convey limited information and do not make causal connections on their own, so any argument that is purely chart-based is correspondingly limited in validity and usefulness. If a writer's argument is not purely chart-based, yet he pretends that it is, then he is concealing his reasoning behind the charts' power of authority. In this way, charts can convince people that bad arguments are good.
- Arguments based on the kinds of charts we're talking about tend to encourage the audience to accept correlation as causation, which humans often do anyway. This is the other way in which charts are useful rhetorical tools. Unfortunately, in the same way, they promote fallacious reasoning.
Good chart-based arguments are much more thorough than those that one is likely to find on political blogs. One should only use them if he is willing to apply honest critical thinking to determine alternative explanations for the data.
Do such concessions strengthen an argument's rhetoric? No. Do they make the argument more reasonable and promote truth? Yes.
The question, then, is: Which of these is your goal?
Ryan is a frequent and creative contributor. He also writes for his own site, where reason and logic prevail against the onslaught of the most formidable of visual aids.
Please visit Secular Ethics.
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I'm not entirely sure how far down the Myste path you wish to journey. Does the Heathen Republican owe it to us to articulate and illustrate points of view he finds unpersuasive and wrong? I would argue that he is under no obligation, none, except to present his own ideas as clearly and persuasively as he can, consistent with the facts as he knows them.
But if I am wrong, and he is obligated to embrace ideas with which he disagrees, I don't see that his use of charts and graphs increases or decreases that obligation in the slightest.
Our mutual friend John Myste seems to define as intellectually dishonest any failure by an advocate to present all sides, including those he opposes. That strikes me as unfair and unrealistic.
But if I am wrong, my question to John has been why he chooses to focus on charts, rather than on any and all "dishonest" advocacy. What difference does a visual aid make to his harsh standard?
John's answer, as I read it, is that he does not focus on charts. He just focuses charts that are dishonest. Which is to say charts that do not present all sides.
I dunno. Perhaps the "I focus on what I focus on because I focus on what I focus on" answer might be clearer if John would diagram his meaning.
Maybe if he would use a chart.
I would first direct you to the beginning of my comment, which you so graciously published. If one is aware of other points of view, has considered them, and believes that he can show that his own is best, then he is not ignorant, foolish, or dishonest to present only his own. He may simply wish to save time. In that case, his argument is simply incomplete.
On the other hand, it is easy for the ignorant, the foolish, and the dishonest to convince themselves that they have the truth, so consistent omission--intentional or otherwise--is bad practice. Moreover, while circumspection may be time-consuming and sometimes tedious, it is essential to the pursuit of truth.
"What difference does a visual aid make to his harsh standard?"
Next, I would direct you to the first problem with charts: they masquerade as reasons for belief when they are not. If one's belief is actually not based on charts, then using charts is effectively a diversion, which is dishonest. In other words: It is inconsistent to appeal to science when one so casually disregards its method in the formation of belief. In fact, those who seek out charts to confirm their beliefs are avoiding the important tasks of understanding how they developed their beliefs in the first place and working to have higher standards for belief in the future.
Then, I would direct you to the second problem with charts: the act of selecting charts, which convey a sense of authority, is the act of excluding data. As John points out, conservatives and liberals often present their own set of charts without regard for each other's set. They even proceed to accuse the other side of intentionally omitting data to support an agenda, failing to see (or not caring) that they are just as guilty.
Research that is not an objective pursuit of truth is often an exercise in confirmation bias. Similarly, debate that is not a pursuit of truth is often a "fun" competition in which all manner of dishonest rhetoric is allowed in pursuit of victory. With practice, that rhetoric can seem less and less dishonest--but then we will have only succeeded in fooling ourselves.
"John's answer, as I read it, is that he does not focus on charts. He just focuses charts that are dishonest. Which is to say charts that do not present all sides."
Accurate charts aren't dishonest. People who construct unsupported arguments around those "authoritative" charts or who fail to take other accurate charts into account might be. Those who are aware of these problems and put forth chart-based arguments anyway are more likely to be.
Most of us would be better off admitting ignorance, which opens up the mind, than using charts.
When speaking of this fallacious form of reasoning, Ralph Waldo Emerson called it: “Arguing as a retained attorney would,” which is OK, if you don’t then call the argument truth. By definition, truth is circumspect.
Considering both sides of an argument will get you much closer to truth, and if you do it honestly, you may find you are less dogmatic and more reasonable.
Our mutual friend John Myste seems to define as intellectually dishonest any failure by an advocate to present all sides, including those he opposes. That strikes me as unfair and unrealistic
Ryan does this routinely and almost effortlessly. Circumspection is not assumed unless you are claiming that you discovered “truth,” at which time it is logically required.
But if I am wrong, my question to John has been why he chooses to focus on charts, rather than on any and all "dishonest" advocacy.
Because charts are usually called “the facts,” followed by accusations of epistemic closure, and such.
I generally do not take the time to produce a chart to support my philosophical view because, like your opinion, my opinion precedes the chart and has nothing to do with the underlying data in the chart. There are charts to support all philosophies, but my philosophies, like yours, are philosophical, and cannot be actually scientifically demonstrated, so I don’t make the false claim that they can, or try to create the illusion that they were.
Most of us would be better off admitting ignorance, which opens up the mind, than using charts.
A good example of this would be our claim that we have all the variables that explain why Keynesian Theory works and the Laffer Curve, which is obvious as a logical elementary concept, has “been discredited.”
One more thing: I find it very odd that you have engaged me for many days on this concept, but you have seem reluctant to engage others on your core philosophy.
Oh, stop it. You're making me blush.
John, I take time to engage because I find your thoughts provocative and valuable. I appreciate the time you devote as well. Your schedule is especially intense, as you have pointed out. Your perception that I "seem reluctant to engage others" no doubt stems from your understandable inability to devote the attention it would take to notice.
The charts are not the beliefs and the beliefs are usually not based on the charts. If the charts were discarded, the reasons for belief would persist. If the reasons for belief were discarded, the charts would not matter. In this case, charts are distractions from the pursuit of truth. Everyone's time is wasted. This approach is dishonest not because of an intent to deceive, but because the beliefs precede the charts. It is a matter of intellectual--not moral--integrity. Of course, once one becomes aware of the problem, it does become a matter of moral integrity.
Let's consider an example:
Jim believes that the 2009 stimulus saved the economy. In an article, he writes that this belief is proven by a chart, which shows that the economy began to improve after the stimulus.
Jim is intellectually dishonest for at least three reasons:
1.) He found the chart after he formed his belief.
2.) He employed the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy in order to read the chart as support for his belief.
3.) He ignored other data.
He may not be a liar, but his claims are not worthy of much consideration. An opponent could dismiss them with the same quality of argument: a belief, a chart, and a fallacy to unite them. Some people might enjoy such a game, but it is not rigorous and it is certainly not an attempt to determine truth. In fact, it is harmful insofar as it encourages others by example to construct and cling to equally weak arguments. Abuse of charts can even lead to widespread distrust thereof.
In contrast, there certainly is a deceptive intent behind the act of presenting one set of charts while knowingly ignoring another, equally legitimate set. We usually call such arguments propaganda. While propaganda can take many forms, charts' implicit appeal to authority makes them common and effective as such. After all, the numbers don't lie.
As for clarity, charts are certainly preferable to a boring list of numbers. However, they merely present data--not arguments, which involve additional reasoning. The issue here is precisely that charts conceal or generally fail to support the arguments that accompany them.
These standards may be too high for casual and trivial opinions, but not for opinions that inform our political decisions. We are morally obligated to hold ourselves to higher standards of knowledge and debate when our decisions affect other people and when we try to convince them to agree with us. Persistent failure in this regard is harmful and produces a culture in which people believe that their opinions are automatically as good as any others.
When charts are excuses to avoid reflection and actual objectivity, we all lose.
If charts are not the problem, if dishonesty is the problem, then I would have thought you would object to the dishonesty, rather than deflect to whatever medium communicates the dishonesty. Just for giggles, try objecting to comic books. I think you'll find the argument every bit as sound. He found the comic book after he formed his belief. Then ...he read the comic book as support for his belief etc.
If someone, with a chart or not, presents a faulty argument, we do not "all lose." The idea of free debate is not that everyone embraces reflection, seeks "actual objectivity", carefully examines every point of view in a dispassionate search for an ideal. It is rather that everyone tests their views, rational or not, careful or not, reflective or not, in the marketplace of ideas.
Truth does not always emerge, but it does emerge enough of the time to make the exercise worthwhile and, for those attracted to the contest of ideas, even a bit of fun.
Focusing on what media are permissible, what attitudes are sufficiently objective, what intellect is ideally balanced, all combine to needlessly clutter the field with judgmental debris. It is the mental equivalent of evaluating a restaurant by eating the menu.
At least that's the way I see it. If need be, I can provide a chart. Or menu, if you and John would find that medium less morally repugnant.
Your comic book case is a poor analogy for two reasons:
1.) People rarely use comic books in that way.
2.) Comic books do not convey a sense of authority.
Here's a better analogy: a Christian develops a moral belief, then reads the Bible to find confirmation. I am almost certain that you would not respect such an approach. If you would, then you might as well throw out your Bible, you heathen.
But you are right about one thing: free debate without high standards of judgment is much simpler and more fun--at least for some people. May the invisible hand of the market of ideas guide us to the most popular truth and amusement.
Now, if you will excuse me, I have a menu to eat.
I have seen Mr. Critter's charts. You and Will covered almost everything that I might say. I particularly enjoyed your point about liberal inconsistency regarding our understanding of our complex economy.
One question that I could ask is: If the economy had worsened or stagnated, at what point would we have been justified in proclaiming that the stimulus had failed?
I do not believe that we began the stimulus with a claim like: "By [specific date], GDP will be [specific number]." Neither were we certain that the economy would not have begun its own recovery in the absence of a stimulus. And yet I suspect that, whether it had taken a month or two years for the economy to improve, at least some liberals would have pointed to the stimulus as the cause. Of course, if the hypothesis is unfalsifiable because it is vague (among other reasons), then we cannot fairly reach any conclusion.
Anyway, since Jerry acknowledged that his charts and axioms and yours would clash before you even commented, I suspect that I would be wasting my time to say anything else.
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