In a classic debate, two people stand toe to toe and argue, free form, about a clear claim, for a fixed time of an hour or more, in front of an attentive audience. The best moments in such a debate are awkward "silences": X makes a good point, and the audience can clearly see Y has no good response. Y may change the subject, but X may soon say "But what about that point I just made, what do you say to that?" If Y changes the subject again, an attentive audience can see clearly: Y has no good response to X’s point. Y’s silence speaks volumes.
Anders and Kaj. I don't want any misunderstandings to be done here. The interview with Mauricio Rojas that I made for Swedish National Radio was not a debate. I was in charge of editing and my mission was to create feelings, images and thoughts in the head of listeners, not to win a discussion.Actually, if I had been any clearer with my own views during the interview, I would have been convicted by "Granskningsnämnden", an organ that garantees the objectitity of Public Service-media in Sweden.
And Anders, please don't call me pundit nor politician. I am a journalist. There's no reason for you to treat me in a disrespectful way, right?
Gene, the fact that one supporter does not know of a good response at one moment does not prove that a good response will never be found. But it is at least evidence that responses tend to be weak. If it were not evidence, then we could never take anyone's arguments made as evidence about the strength of arguments on a topic, and so shouldn't listen to anyone.
"and the audience can clearly see Y has no good response."
At that moment.
"Y's silence speaks volumes."
About Y's having no good response at that moment. I've occasionally taken 3 or 4 years to come up with a good response to an opponent's argument, which has then proved decisive. So, so what? The whole adverserial model is flawed anyway.
Pablo, "adversarial collaboration" is intriguing, but I suspect the reason we do not see more of them is that journal referees do not give resulting submitted papers the extra priority needed to compensate for the extra effort required to create them.
What about "adversarial collaboration" as an alternative to both classic and written debate? Here is how Daniel Kahneman describes the format in his intellectual autobiography:
One line of work that I hope may become influential is the development of a procedure of adversarial collaboration, which I have championed as a substitute for the format of critique-reply-rejoinder in which debates are currently conducted in the social sciences. Both as a participant and as a reader I have been appalled by the absurdly adversarial nature of these exchanges, in which hardly anyone ever admits an error or acknowledges learning anything from the other. Adversarial collaboration involves a good-faith effort to conduct debates by carrying out joint research - in some cases there may be a need for an agreed arbiter to lead the project and collect the data. Because there is no expectation of the contestants reaching complete agreement at the end of the exercise, adversarial collaborations will usually lead to an unusual type of joint publication, in which disagreements are laid out as part of a jointly authored paper.
By the way, as regards your article on medical spending, do you know where to find reliable statistics on where money in medicine is spent (ER, OR, outpatient, medication, etc.). I've been working in an ER, and I feel a sense of general outrage by the number of medicare/medicaid recipients that use the ER as a primary care medical facility, thus clogging the system. The average wait on Mondays is over 9 hours to be seen by a doctor, but only 5 on Fridays. Coincidence?
Kaj: you can find the program athttp://www.sr.se/cgi-bin/p3...
I agree with Constant. I think the "akward silence" has been rooted out of most debates because the debaters think it makes them look bad, and so fill the space with babble, or a convoluted nonsensical argument, or change the point, or twist what the other debator has said instead of taking time to evaluate the claim. That they care more about appearing wrong indicates they are not actually trying to determine what the truth is. I think this is to be expected though. Who that debates in public really is a truth seeker?
Constant, perhaps an even better debate format would be ten minutes per night for a week. That might give debaters more time to think of better responses.
The best moments in such a debate are awkward "silences": X makes a good point, and the audience can clearly see Y has no good response.
If silence always indicates a loss, then no one will ever be able to stop to think during a debate - an uncommon practice to begin with, but one which is to be encouraged.
Eliezer's point makes me wonder whether debates are so great after all. If someone makes an unexpected point that the other side has not thought about and prepared for ahead of time, then a rational truth seeker ought seriously to consider allowing the other side all the time it needs to prepare a response, fully discounting "awkward silences", provided there is an eventual answer.
David Brin discusses this in detail here.
You might look into BeContrary as a potential place to foster "classical" debate: given its emphasis on the debate process, it's conceivable that less pride and ego is tied up in the ideas, and more in how you argue them. (Note: I'm unaffiliated with them, just excited by the idea of debate as recreation.)
Forget the debate, what we need to come up with is some way that we can act on the fact that marginal medicine does not improve health much or at all, that will allow us to prosper as individuals. The thing about this information is that acting on it personally will benefit others as much as it benefits the person that acts on it and for each individual that acts degree that we benefit is insignificant. One person proposed dropping our health insurance, IMHO that only works out for you if you are either young and healthy or very rich. For example you cannot capture that much of the benefit of signing a living will. BTW I have some hope that computers and technology will get us out of this situation. Sometimes high spending on stuff that does not work encourages people to invent stuff that does work.
Anders, that radio debate sounds like something I wouldn't mind hearing. Is it available online somewhere? (Yes, I have a pretty good grasp of Swedish.)
If you're judging by how often a claim goes un-responded to, might you end up with this? It's not inevitable, but there's a risk.
I fear that you can also lose out on precious silence by being too verbally intelligent. The sad fact is that I doubt that I would ever be struck genuinely dumb, no matter how wrong I had just been proven. I will just have to hope that I can find the words "Guess I was wrong," in place of silence.
During video interviews where I know my silences have been edited out, I not uncommonly fall silent after a question while I think about how to organize my response. Perhaps if I find myself doing something similar during a debate, I should say, "Let me think about that." If silence always indicates a loss, then no one will ever be able to stop to think during a debate - an uncommon practice to begin with, but one which is to be encouraged.
I had not quite realized the selfish motives against debates. I will push harder for the Singularity Institute to do more of these, now that I realize the cause of their absence.