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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

I Noticed Something

The general level of argument people use is fairly low. Looking that the Chronicle of Higher Education comment threads, I notice people will make arguments like this. (Irrespective of whether I happen to agree with the perspective: obviously it is easier to spot fallacies when you are looking to discount a particular point of view, but I find people I agree with can be equally fallacious.)

Arguments from anecdote or limited information, with no empirical foundation. This happened to me, so this must be typical. "My grandfather smoked everyday and lived to be 90."

Arguments from self-interest. Tenure is a good thing... because I have tenure!

Arguments from what "studies show," or from what a particular study showed that I read about recently, heard about on NPR or in the CHE, or from a press release from my Uni.

Overgeneralization from studies with very limited, barely significant findings. A 5% variance becomes an absolute. If men are 5% more likely to do x than women, that means "men do it and women don't."

Arguments from received wisdom or prejudice. Of course tenured professors are not going to be good teachers, because they do research. Everyone knows this already.

Arguments from the fallibility of science. Of course, you can't believe these scientific studies, because... Hitler used scientists to his ends.

Arguments from the infallibility of science. I am right because ... science! (Even when it is merely a limited form of social science of limited validity.)

Various other kinds of lazy thinking. Tenure protects academic freedom (yes, sure but is that what it mainly does in today's climate? does it really protect freedom all that well, who benefits from that type of argument?; does that mean the untenured should have no freedom?) The military protects "freedom," (but is a militarized society generally more "free"? I don't think so.)


Anonymous said...

A graduate student, of the type who is trying to avoid content for fear of getting overwhelmed and thus failing the test of being sufficiently expedient, is in my class where we are reading that 2005 Mignolo book.

Him to me: "I have highlighted this book for argumentation strategies. It is probably the best argued analysis I have ever read."

Me (aside): Child, it is billed as and is supposed to be a *manifesto.* It uses every persuasive trick it can, and it anticipates and responds to every possible objection, for a reason...

Anonymous said...

And: about tenure protecting academic freedom -- well it does, but for more subtle and complex reasons than most people are willing to stop and think through. And my current rant -- one of my usual rants, but it is particularly pertinent en la actual coyuntura -- is that most people do not exercise it, and that the grad school plus tenure track exercises are designed to instill that habit and fear in people. They refuse to use it and to the extent that they do, they will deserve its abolition when tenure is abolished. (*And* watch all the caution they exercised for all those years, not help them then; and watch them cry then, shocked and surprised.)

Anonymous said...


to the extent that they do *refuse to use it

Anonymous said...

But anyway, yes: most people repeat received wisdom and are very unnerved if they have to witness any actual thought processes. So no argumentation. This is a very American phenomenon, too, although not exclusively so.