Monday, April 16, 2012

John Scalzi's rules for conducting a political argument on blogs

If you don't know, John Scalzi is a really significant SF writer, whose blog Whatever is easily among the top 100 in the country.

His take:

1. One is entitled to one’s own opinions, but not one’s own facts. Commensurately, anecdote may be fact (it happened to you), but anecdote is usually a poor platform for general assertions, since one’s own experience is often not a general experience.
2. If you make an assertion that implies a factual basis, it is entirely proper that others may ask you to back up these assertions with facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal.
3. If you cannot bolster said assertion with facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, you have to accept that others may not find your general argument persuasive.
4. This dynamic of people asking for facts, or at least data, beyond the anecdotal, is in itself non-partisan; implications otherwise are a form of ad hominem argument which is generally not relevant to the discussion at hand.
5. If you offer evidence and assert it as fact, you may reasonably expect others to examine such information and to rebut you if they find it wanting and/or find your interpretation incorrect in some manner.
All of which is to say that asserting from anecdote without being able to bolster said assertion with actual facts is likely to get your assertion discounted; if you present facts without rigor, you’re likely to see those discounted as well. Again, this is neither here nor there as regards one’s personal politics; this is simply about making a robust argument.

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