Thursday, April 29, 2010

Political arguments

PZ Myers reviews an interesting study of political argumentation and strategy:
[W]hen you've got an argument going, and one side has the evidence but the other side has an inflexible certainty that the evidence is wrong, the inflexibles tend to distort the normal process of weighing the evidence and drawing reasonable conclusions — they suck in more uncommitted participants (called 'floaters') to their way of thinking, generating more inflexibles, strengthing [sic] the position of the anti-science side, leading to greater attraction to being wrong. The counter-strategy, suggested later in the paper, is to 'get more inflexibles' — winning over floaters so they drift over to your side has little long-term impact, it's far better to build a larger army of forceful advocates for your position.
Myers notes that the paper "is entirely theoretical, based on a mathematical model of human behavior" and therefore of limited usefulness. It's an interesting paper nonetheless, and [from the original paper]
The results she a new but disturbing light on Designing adequate strategies to eventually win public debates. To produce inflexibles in one's own side is thus critical to win a public argument whatever the rigor cost and the associated epistemological paradoxes. At odds, to focus on convincing open-minded agents is useless. In summary, when the scientific evidence is not as strong as claimed, the inflexibles rather than the data are found to drive the collective opinion of the population. Consequences on Designing adequate strategies to win a public debate are discussed.