The Dominance of Thought

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Cheynem
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The Dominance of Thought

Post by Cheynem » Tue Mar 06, 2018 4:09 pm

So, this might be very off base. That's okay--you can tell me.

Since my retirement, I play opens which tend to be hard to very hard. I find that in such tournaments (such as This Tournament is a Crime, CMST, and Chicago Opens) there is an incredibly high preponderance of what I will very broadly call "thought," questions that are about thought concepts, thinkers, philosophers, or could actually go into other topics but are tilted more towards the theoretical/analytical aspects of them (i.e., scholarship on literature or literary theory; historical theorists). Furthermore, the usual removal of trash usually leads to a Your Choice tilted again towards thought.

On the one hand, I get this and I am somewhat okay with it. There are no other tournaments where such questions would work and they are certainly worthy of being asked about.

On the other hand, I feel like they tend to overly reward certain knowledge/interest bases and are not overly interesting to those who are not into "thought." For example, I feel like some of the "traditional" social sciences really get undervalued at hard tournaments as opposed to easy tournaments (I'm probably just forgetting stuff and I'm not talking about CMST here, but psychology seems way underrepresented at hard tournaments, besides, again, the more thought based psych).

My analysis is not based on stats, but rather just the experience of playing these hard tournaments and finding the experience different than most "regular" difficulty sets (and not just on the scale in difficulty). I'd like to know if others feel the same way, if this is an issue, etc.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by vinteuil » Tue Mar 06, 2018 4:20 pm

Cheynem wrote:For example, I feel like some of the "traditional" social sciences really get undervalued at hard tournaments as opposed to easy tournaments (I'm probably just forgetting stuff and I'm not talking about CMST here, but psychology seems way underrepresented at hard tournaments, besides, again, the more thought based psych).
I agree with this, and think that more empirical psychology and econ should come up at hard tournaments. But that's replacing methodology ("thought") with methods (getting close to "science") which I'm not sure really appeals to that many more people.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by The Stately Rhododendron » Tue Mar 06, 2018 5:29 pm

"Empirical econ"? Jacob, Das Kapital gets tossed up all the time!
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by Borrowing 100,000 Arrows » Tue Mar 06, 2018 6:15 pm

Cheynem wrote:I feel like they tend to overly reward certain knowledge/interest bases and are not overly interesting to those who are not into "thought." For example, I feel like some of the "traditional" social sciences really get undervalued at hard tournaments as opposed to easy tournaments (I'm probably just forgetting stuff and I'm not talking about CMST here, but psychology seems way underrepresented at hard tournaments, besides, again, the more thought based psych).
I also think that it would be cool if thought contained more political science, law, and IR theory. These are subjects that a lot of people study at uni but come up pretty infrequently in quizbowl.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode » Tue Mar 06, 2018 6:36 pm

vinteuil wrote:
Cheynem wrote:For example, I feel like some of the "traditional" social sciences really get undervalued at hard tournaments as opposed to easy tournaments (I'm probably just forgetting stuff and I'm not talking about CMST here, but psychology seems way underrepresented at hard tournaments, besides, again, the more thought based psych).
But that's replacing methodology ("thought") with methods (getting close to "science") which I'm not sure really appeals to that many more people.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Mar 06, 2018 7:59 pm

Unless I am mistaken (and someone should feel free to correct me if I am wrong), I was the first editor to propose and institute a "Thought" category (as independent from pure Social Science or pure Philosophy) in a collegiate tournament, four years ago. Marshall Steinbaum deserves a lot of credit too, as we collaborated on both the conception and execution of this category. So, I could maybe say a few words about what I was hoping that creating this category space would achieve, and the ways in which I think we have gotten away from that.

My proposing this category was in response to two problems: (1) that the social science distribution was excessively dedicated to outdated thinkers that are not part of social science as actually practiced at present; (2) that there are many forms of academic thought that quizbowl engaged with only minimally or not at all, because they didn't fit neatly into the Social Science and Philosophy slots. In the e-mail with Marshall in which we originally hashed out Cane Ridge Revival's distribution, I listed the following (off of the top of my head) as underrepresented branches of academic discourse: Archaeology, Literary Theory, Education, Law, Academic Geography, Historiography, Journalism, Criminology/Forensics, Semiotics, Media Studies, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Race Studies. (I'm sure some of you disagree with some of these choices, and my omissions, but I was just spitballing.) This was never supposed to displace what I felt that quizbowl at the time regarded as the "core social sciences" (Economics, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Political Science, International Relations, and Linguistics). It was supposed to be a supplement.

However, in the name of responsible and gradualist canon expansion (something that is often thrown to the wind), I advocated for lowering the propotion of author/work tossups and increasing the proportion of common-links within the "Thought" distribution. This was because pyramidal tossup construction (in all subjects!) relies on an important (and occasionally ignored) principle: some portion of the field will have no "first-order knowledge" (first-hand reading experience, conceptual understanding, etc.) of whatever is being tossed up, but will have varying degrees of "second-order knowledge" (word association, packet study, Wikipedia, etc.); in order for your tossup to play well, the post-power clues need to stop requiring "first-order knowledge" altogether and start distinguishing between those levels of "second-order knowledge." (I have, of course, written plenty of overly top-heavy tossups in my career due to difficulty misjudgments about particular clues, but I have tried to stick by that principle.)

Having a "Thought" category in which the boundaries between quizbowl's core social sciences and its marginalized academic disciplines were effaced should allow one to write tossups in which the early clues are from the marginalized discipline and the later clues are from the core one, and thus have the former piggy-back on the later. The purpose was never for people to start writing tossups wholly devoted to disciplines that very few people in quizbowl have exposure to, because those just can't play well.

Besides the one I just mentioned, the other problem that this created is that it is much easier to gauge difficulty when you are writing on a thinker or work than on a cross-disciplinary concept tossup. There is less canon for what the late clues should be, and judging difficulty across disciplines is tougher. I think many of us who pushed for this shfit to more common-links greatly underestimated this problem.

Zooming out to broader questions of methodology, I'd like to address to how this relates to the "back to school" movement. I think that I am occasionally framed as a proponent (or even leader) of that movement. I don't want to speak for everyone involved in this movement, but I always conceived of it like this: When the quizbowl canon is severed from the academic canon, and most people are getting their "first-hand knowledge" from academic study, we are leaving a lot of already-present knowledge untapped and we are rewarding packet study over real engagement. Shifting the canon towards that knowledge base serves a positive goal. And early clues and hard parts that reward that mindset or those forms of engagement can encourage people to learn clues in that way, as it becomes a more valuable asset. But again, the project was always intended to be gradualist. We are not supposed to suddenly start tossing up the contents of every college syllabus, canon and tournament field-at-large be damned.

Naturally, whatever my role in its early days, I have no right whatsoever to dictate what the "Thought" category must or should be, and I have little power to influence it (as someone who does little to no upper-level editing any longer). But the point I wish to emphasize is this: the current problem is less with who we are choosing to add to the canon, and more with the speed at which are trying to expand the canon, and how much clue space we are devoting to these new "real" things.

EDIT: My usual slew of typos
Last edited by ThisIsMyUsername on Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:21 pm, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Mar 06, 2018 8:07 pm

By the way, lest I sound too down on the current state of Thought writing, I would like to add that I that Thought Monstrosity was one of the best-executed set of Thought questions I've yet played in quizbowl (primarily with regards to answer-line selection), and is a good model to be emulated by future writers for upper-level Thought questions.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by Cheynem » Tue Mar 06, 2018 8:10 pm

I should note that I really like the creation of a "Thought" category. I think John makes some good points about trying to explore different topics in a more user-friendly manner. To be clear, my issue is more of the general feeling that thought-based questions tend to dominate hard tournaments as opposed to specific problems in the questions themselves (but perhaps my feelings would be different if the questions were produced in a different style).
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by ErikC » Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:28 pm

I'd say that thought questions on concepts are much easier for newer players to play in harder tournaments without sacrificing proper difficulty. Tossups like [THINGS FROM CMST] are easier for a new player who might have some good knowledge across disciplines but might not be familiar with the exact book or thinker the concept is from. Remembering names and titles is an extra step that can trip people up who might otherwise be very informed on the concept.

I think in general, thought is just better suited to the format of quiz bowl. From my own experience, writing on the theorists of my discipline like Jane Jacobs is much easier than writing on something that could work completely differently somewhere else.
Last edited by ErikC on Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by women, fire and dangerous things » Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:35 pm

This thread is public and not part of the CMST discussion, so CMST questions should not be mentioned in it.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by ErikC » Tue Mar 06, 2018 9:39 pm

My apologies.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by heterodyne » Wed Mar 07, 2018 12:37 am

I'm a bit confused as to what the complaint being made is. Is the complaint that "thought" takes up too much of the distribution? If so, I fail to see how this is true - 15% seems like a high upper bound, assuming thought is taking up a philosophy slot, a social science slot, and an "other academic" spot. It seems to me that this would leave "thought" underrepresented, if anything, given that most non-science academic study contains at least some element that would currently be categorized as "thought."

If the complaint is that "thought" is disproportionately uninteresting to anyone outside of a small selection of people, I'm not really seeing why this is the case. Well-written* thought is generally talking about concepts and arguments that can be understood without extensive technical knowledge by anyone playing the high-level sets in question. I certainly think that a tossup on even a famously obtuse theorist like Lacan or something will make more sense to a non-specialist than a tossup on the Aharonov-Bohm effect (chosen randomly, not to offend any Aharonov-Bohm partisans on the forums.) We don't take the conceptual opacity of these tossups to non-specialists as a problem, so I fail to see why we should apply this standard to "thought" tossups.

This is not to contradict any of the people above who say that we should ask more about things like IR, law, and experimental psychology - these are all obviously interesting topics worthy of being asked about. These topics, however, all include parts that seem to fall into the loose category of "thought." As such, I'm not sure why their expansion has to come at the expense of the already small domain given to "thought", a category that seems to include all of humanities academia and theoretical social science.

*Note that it can be hard to write thought well, much as it can be hard to write questions of any category well, and this may be disproportionately true of thought where one is attempting to communicate broad theoretical concepts in the space of a few sentences. I don't see, however, why this would be much more of a problem than the similar problem facing science writers. If anything, a few minutes on the SEP can get one to the level of conceptual acquaintance necessary to clue properly in a way that similar time investment cannot for a scientific subject one knows nothing about.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Mar 07, 2018 1:41 pm

In 2010 or 2012, if you asked me what the most underrepresented thing in quizbowl was, I would have replied "thought". Or more specifically, thought that does not fall into the narrow, small categories at the bottom of the ACF distribution. I don't think this view would have been particularly controversial either - a lot of people would have probably claimed that maybe certain kinds of art were actually more underrepresented, but nobody would consider my view to be absurd.

A time traveler from 2012 would probably look quite kindly on the apparent explosion in thought tossups.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by Sam » Thu Mar 08, 2018 11:02 pm

Cheynem wrote:I should note that I really like the creation of a "Thought" category. I think John makes some good points about trying to explore different topics in a more user-friendly manner. To be clear, my issue is more of the general feeling that thought-based questions tend to dominate hard tournaments as opposed to specific problems in the questions themselves (but perhaps my feelings would be different if the questions were produced in a different style).
It does seem that, perhaps for idiosyncratic historical reasons, a large number of "Thought" questions are common links, and I think these types of questions can appear more approachable than they actually are when writing. Let's say I want to write a question on, I don't know, GJR-GARCH models.* My first thought will hopefully be "wait, this is a completely inappropriate thing to write a question on. It's very difficult and will just waste people's time without distinguishing between any gradients of knowledge. I should not do this." On the other hand, say I want to write a tossup on the letter "G" in finance or whatever subfield GJR-GARCH models are used in. There may be good ways to do this, but it would also be really easy to write a tossup that is substantively the same as the GJR-GARCH model with a gimme giveaway tacked on at the end and not realize what I was doing.

Another way to say this might be that if you want to ask about a tertiary literary critic, don't put them in a tossup that is about some common theme between him or her and four other tertiary literary critics. It may instead work better to put them in a tossup that with a little re-tweaking and cutting could be a short tossup on a primary literary critic, with fun, earlier clues on the tertiary guy.

*I feel comfortable using this as an example because I can say with confidence that it is not something that I ever have nor ever will write a question on.
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Re: The Dominance of Thought

Post by rahulkeyal » Fri Mar 09, 2018 3:13 pm

ErikC wrote:Tossups like [THINGS FROM CMST]
FYI, these questions have been replaced for future mirrors of CMST.
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