an encyclopedia of arguments 02.21.2007, 6:41 AM
posted by ben vershbow
I just came across this though apparently it's been up and running since last summer. Debatepedia is a free, wiki-based encyclopedia where people can collaboratively research and write outlines of arguments on contentious subjects -- stem cell reseach, same-sex marriage, how and when to withdraw from Iraq (it appears to be focused in practice if not in policy on US issues) -- assembling what are essentially roadmaps to important debates of the moment. Articles are organized in "logic trees," a two-column layout in which pros and cons, fors and againsts, yeas and neas are placed side by side for each argument and its attendant sub-questions. A fairly strict citations policy ensures that each article also serves as a link repository on its given topic.
This is an intriguing adaptation of the Wikipedia model -- an inversion you could say, in that it effectively raises the "talk" pages (discussion areas behind an article) to the fore. Instead of "neutral point of view," with debates submerged, you have an emphasis on the many-sidedness of things. The problem of course is that Debatepedia's format suggests that all arguments are binary. The so-called "logic trees" are more like logic switches, flipped on or off, left or right -- a crude reduction of what an argument really is.
I imagine they used the two column format for simplicity's sake -- to create a consistent and accessible form throughout the site. It's true that representing the full complexity of a subject on a two-dimensional screen lies well beyond present human capabilities, but still there has to be some way to present a more shaded spectrum of thought -- to triangulate multiple perspectives and still make the thing readable and useful (David Weinberger has an inchoate thought along similar lines w/r/t to NPR stories and research projects for listeners -- taken up by Doc Searls).
I'm curious to hear what people think. Pros? Cons? Logic tree anyone?
bowerbird on February 21, 2007 4:36 AM:
two sides are all you need for an argument.
and if you don't believe me, let's arm-wrestle... ;+)
susan on February 21, 2007 5:48 AM:
I love it! Although weblogs can do (and have done)the same thing with commenting, it presents the issue in a logical format. Weblogs also tend to attract comments of like-minded individuals who regularly read that particular blog so it becomes a matter of confirmation rather than debate, with the lone protestor being mob-beaten by the fans.
In any argument the problem is usually that no one listens long enough to the other side to be convinced but instead impatiently waits to present their own side. Reading precludes that problem when both are right there. It also brings up a number of valid points that may not have been thought of by all individuals. We tend to focus on one main reason and are blind to some of the offshoots of the argument.
Gary Frost on February 21, 2007 3:29 PM:
The two sides at IF:Book are advocates for paper based reading in the context of screen based reading and advocates for screen based reading in the context of paper based reading.
Eddie A. Tejeda on February 22, 2007 1:20 AM:
Ha! I agree completely with you, Gary!
Except, I can't tell if it's supposed to be an genuine observation or a snide remark.
It doesn't matter though... I think your point get to core of what we are interested in, and reflects our genuine attempt to understand the future of intellectual discourse.
Simply advocating for one medium or another closes us out to the most interesting complexities of this topic.
Gary Frost on February 22, 2007 6:19 AM:
And I completely agree with you! No issue as complex as the future of the book can be advanced by polarized debate alone.
For starters the terms need some attention including the "of" and the "the". I find it amusing that the print book has engendered a dozen really important futures across its five centuries of use and yet this model is the first to be discounted in prospects for screen reading. I continue to suspect that the "digital revolution" will advance print reading as much or even more than screen reading.
Eddie A. Tejeda on February 23, 2007 2:40 PM:
"The problem of course is that Debatepedia's format suggests that all arguments are binary. The so-called "logic trees" are more like logic switches, flipped on or off, left or right -- a crude reduction of what an argument really is."
Well... binary might be limited, but adding too many levels of granularity and the website can quickly become overwhelming. I think the purpose of the site is to provide a primer on complex issues, of which you can branch out of in many directions. It'd definitely be problem if that is not made clear... but then again, people often think that Wikipedia is trying to be an unbiased authoritative source (what ever that means). I see these public forums as entry ways into what can lead into thousands of books and just as many views.
Trying to map out a debate online and all it's possible shades is a massive under taking. That's one of the questions we wrestle with everyday, but I don't think that is what Debatepedia is trying to accomplish though. Am I wrong?
Gary Frost on February 24, 2007 8:06 PM:
"Trying to map out a debate online and all it's possible shades is a massive under taking. That's one of the questions we wrestle with everyday, but I don't think that is what Debatepedia is trying to accomplish though. Am I wrong?"
It is what If:Book should be doing. What movement or trends have we observed in the coverage of the tag lines entertained here? Have some gone extinct? Have some ramified? What is the taxonomy of the tags? Why not just open a page to accumulate and map tags considered relevant? The Eastgate StorySpace could do this 20 years ago.
Gary Frost on February 25, 2007 2:33 AM:
...but, Gary, how would you do this?
Well, first you need a title. I suggest the taxonomy page be named "BookWays". I wouldn't be surprised if the domain is available. Then I would consider a graphic strategy, perhaps overlaping and eclipsing circles. Then I would entice a community to contribute to the mediated bookways forum since the map terms in the circles need to go somewhere. Finally, I would publish BookWays to paper to incite continuing on-line discussion. Its all just poetry and science.
dan stadler on May 29, 2007 4:34 AM:
I ran across debatepedia, and then a blog search about it got me here. I don't know much about If:Book, so please pardon if I'm just repeating what others have already said elsewhere in the community...
Debatepedia seems very cool. One of the things I see potentially happening is an alteration to the current blog-commenting model, in which individual comments can be marked or flagged as "this is a specific instance of a well-established argument, see here" and then a link into debatepedia or other such tools.
Or other marks/flags such as: "this argument would not meet the generally established rules for online debate, as defined by:" and then a link into the debatepedia argument rules section (does such a thing exist? I haven't gotten that far yet). Examples could be: ad-hominem attacks; personal attacks; unsupported claim; logical flaw; etc etc.
I also like the work going on at http://spacedebate.org -- underlying the specific debate is a debate engine which is trying to improve the UI experience for online structured debate. I think debatepedia could probably take a few hints from there.
Just my .02