Split topic on CO science

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Split topic on CO science

Post by Auroni » Mon Aug 01, 2011 1:53 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:Also, this tournament could have used some more science that you could get by being an actual scientist rather than reading Wikipedia articles.
maybe you're the wrong kind of scientist did you think of that
yeah it was really stupid of me to get a phd in astrophysics when they didn't even teach me about flare stars, i mean what kind of an education is that anyway
You might call that education... *glasses*... incomplete.

Seriously, though, I know what flare stars are because they are a curious and cool phenomenon that a non (astro)physicist like me can comprehend. I realize that people studying astrophysics don't really care about that, but it's akin to the occasional dinosaur or zoology question that crops up in biology. I groan at the presence of those questions, but I don't see any issue with one or two questions that are slightly more possible for the general audience than the rest of the category, especially at a hard tournament.
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 2:44 pm

Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:Seriously, though, I know what flare stars are because they are a curious and cool phenomenon that a non (astro)physicist like me can comprehend. I realize that people studying astrophysics don't really care about that, but it's akin to the occasional dinosaur or zoology question that crops up in biology. I groan at the presence of those questions, but I don't see any issue with one or two questions that are slightly more possible for the general audience than the rest of the category, especially at a hard tournament.
This should be in the discussion thread when that pops up, but your premise is incorrect: these things aren't, as a rule, more accessible to non-specialists in any meaningful way. It might be more accessible to someone who read every article in the "Types of stars" category on Wikipedia, sure. I'm sure the majority of the players at this tournament (including both astrophysicists) haven't got the foggiest idea of what they are.

That question sucked but it was representative of a larger problem which was that much of the science (in my fields of knowledge) had basically no relation to anything scientists actually know. It's like people continuously refuse to understand what that means or why it's relevant and just write a bunch of questions that either ask for obscurata no one cares about (what the fuck is the Miller effect? 1.5 years of solid state physics and this is the first I hear of it!) or are full of word salad (A related analogue to this effect is the Buttface-McGarnagle effect! Blah blah blah). I thought it was obvious enough to not merit mentioning, but apparently people still don't understand that no one working on a physics degree sits around with flashcards memorizing which effects are related to which; what happens in a physics class is that you learn how to solve different types of problems and of course you also learn the names of some core theorems, but for the most part it's about understanding the material. I want to see more questions like that tossup on "fields" that focus on understanding basic but important concepts and fewer questions on ungettable bullshit no one would care about in the slightest if it didn't get them points from other people's bad writing.

You can either reward people for actually learning some science, or you can reward them for knowing the right trigger words. It's my contention that you should be doing the former, but I guess not everyone agrees.
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by Auroni » Mon Aug 01, 2011 3:01 pm

I don't think that I phrased my point correctly. I wasn't saying that flare stars are necessarily "easier" in any quantifiable way, just that getting a basic grasp of what they are is easier for the general audience of the tournament than getting a grasp of the large majority of what you learned in class, which probably involved tons of complicated higher order differential equations. (For what it's worth, I read an online magazine article about them, thought it was cool, and then looked it up on wikipedia). I agree with the rest of your post though.
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 3:05 pm

Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:I don't think that I phrased my point correctly. I wasn't saying that flare stars are necessarily "easier" in any quantifiable way, just that getting a basic grasp of what they are is easier for the general audience of the tournament than getting a grasp of the large majority of what you learned in class, which probably involved tons of complicated higher order differential equations. (For what it's worth, I read an online magazine article about them, thought it was cool, and then looked it up on wikipedia). I agree with the rest of your post though.
There are plenty of basic and straightforward-to-grasp concepts that would make fine answer choices at even harder tournaments, and yet lend themselves to questions that can be answered from actual physics knowledge.
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by DumbJaques » Mon Aug 01, 2011 4:21 pm

There are plenty of basic and straightforward-to-grasp concepts that would make fine answer choices at even harder tournaments, and yet lend themselves to questions that can be answered from actual physics knowledge.
I'd be interested in hearing (in a separate topic, probably) people like Jerry and others outline what kinds of things actually meet this criteria. In particular, I'd really like to be able to write physics questions that don't suck (or at least pick answer lines that don't), but I'm not sure what does or doesn't make something fall into that category.

I suppose this is also a topic for the other thread, but I do question the premise that absolutely every science question has to be rigorously more accessible to any person who has taken science classes in the same basic category (bio, physics, etc.) than it is to anyone else. This isn't really the same as drawing an analogy to reading a book vs. reading about a book, because being a chemist won't guarantee that you'll work with lysine pharmaceuticals any more than being an English major (or even like, an American literature PhD) will guarantee that you've read X book.

I agree that in general, most science questions need to draw from material you'd actually encounter when academically studying a topic, but I don't think that implies you can't have any answer lines where there's not a huge clue differential between people who've taken advanced physics classes or whatever and people who haven't. I don't like, expect all the history questions I hear to be filled with clues on primary sources or historiography (or to be on answer lines that lend themselves to such a structure). It doesn't at all strike me as problematic that Jerry could spend an hour one day reading an essay about the Ethiopian-Eritrean war and beat me to a question on it because the leadin wasn't on one of the primary sources I read for my paper. I'm not sure why it would be patently unacceptable if Auroni read an article and further researched some topic and was able to beat a physicist because the first clues were something that could be understood without having to take advanced thermodynamics or whatever.

Perhaps I'm not understanding Jerry's argument correctly (apologies if that's the case), but it does seem to me like we don't come close to applying this standard to any other categories. Nor should we, because it doesn't at all benefit the game to fill the law subdistribution with tossups on constructive trust or other stuff appropriate only for Andrew Hart Law Bowl - let's be clear, I am not arguing that we need to overhaul how we write about non-science categories (or how we write about science categories, either).

I am, however, questioning why there's something inherently wrong with having some questions in the science distribution that don't automatically place people who've taken higher level classes in that area in a position of advantage over people who have read perhaps significantly about the topic, but can't understand the mechanics of physics equations. Note, here, that I'm distinguishing "taken higher level classes in the same general area of science" from "studied this specific thing," which IS akin to reading or studying a novel.

And for what's it's worth, geology/earth science questions frequently bear almost NO actual relation to what geologists actually study. In fact, many questions I hear about geophysics more often than not are outdated (sometimes by like, a century!), filled with lies, or are on geomagnetic reversals. There aren't really any geologists around in quizbowl to bitch about this, so it's largely unaddressed and in theory it's no harder for me to get one of those tossups on "apatite" or whatever than it is for a science player or even for a mineralogists. My question here is, so what? Science players still seem to get those questions, there's clearly not some kind of big crisis where we can't have mineralogy questions anymore because THEY TOOK OUR JOBS, and the quizbowl world as we know it is still fine. I'm not sure why a similar standard can't be applied to other areas of science, though I freely admit I don't have enough of a scientific background to know whether there's an element of this situation I'm just not capable of grasping. Hopefully nobody writes a tossup on that.
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by Tower Monarch » Mon Aug 01, 2011 4:42 pm

DumbJaques wrote:
There are plenty of basic and straightforward-to-grasp concepts that would make fine answer choices at even harder tournaments, and yet lend themselves to questions that can be answered from actual physics knowledge.
It doesn't at all strike me as problematic that Jerry could spend an hour one day reading an essay about the Ethiopian-Eritrean war and beat me to a question on it because the leadin wasn't on one of the primary sources I read for my paper. I'm not sure why it would be patently unacceptable if Auroni read an article and further researched some topic and was able to beat a physicist because the first clues were something that could be understood without having to take advanced thermodynamics or whatever.
I think the primary difference between what Jerry was saying and your example would be that in your example, the subject actually came up in your academic study of history and somebody read up on what ended up being the lead-in. The parallel of that for Jerry would be somebody first-lining a tossup on CMB stuff because someone else had recently read journal articles on it. I think Jerry would be ok with that, as long as the next clue would have given it to him against any other player.
On the other hand, the example he gives translates to tossing up an individual author of a historical account that is rarely cited in historical literature because the guy has a funny name and a long wiki article or something. You would have no chance on that, but some high schooler might nail the question because he was looking through some wiki category page. This is an example of poor answer selection, which is what Jerry is focusing on.
Honestly, my thoughts without looking at the question are, with the Astrophysics subdistribution so small (relative to say, Organic Chemistry), how can you really justify a question on something the actual astrophysicists in quizbowl have little or no familiarity with? When that is justified, academic quizbowl becomes a trivia contest.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Cheynem » Mon Aug 01, 2011 4:47 pm

(I don't know anything about science, and the only science questions I have ever answered have been by hearing buzzwords)

This is similar to what Cameron said, but I would imagine Jerry's frustration is similar to how I feel when I get confronted by history questions that feature such clues as "Participants at this battle include Gottfried of Lord Dumbtown" or "This politician once worked for Dennis Doofington and Boss Weezy McGillicuddy." While it can be pretty easy to learn Gottfriend of Lord Dumbtown and Dennis Doofington as buzzwords for battles or people, this is not exactly how most historians would go about learning things about battles or people (unless of course they are legitimately important, in which case, they're not the lead-in or a description of it could appear first anyway).
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 5:15 pm

DumbJaques wrote:I'd be interested in hearing (in a separate topic, probably) people like Jerry and others outline what kinds of things actually meet this criteria. In particular, I'd really like to be able to write physics questions that don't suck (or at least pick answer lines that don't), but I'm not sure what does or doesn't make something fall into that category.
Step 1: pick a basic concept from physics (momentum, mass, density, whatever)
Step 2: find ways in which that concept is applied
Step 3: write tossup using those clues

Your question does not need to be on Obscure Doubly-Eponymous Effect. Chances are no one knows anything about it anyway. Chances are even better that whatever people know about it can be reduced to "thing X is associated with thing Y therefore I should mash button when I hear that."
I suppose this is also a topic for the other thread, but I do question the premise that absolutely every science question has to be rigorously more accessible to any person who has taken science classes in the same basic category (bio, physics, etc.) than it is to anyone else.
I am trying and failing to come up with a charitable interpretation of this statement. Maybe you should tell me what you mean more explicitly so I don't attribute the worst possible reading of this to you.
This isn't really the same as drawing an analogy to reading a book vs. reading about a book, because being a chemist won't guarantee that you'll work with lysine pharmaceuticals any more than being an English major (or even like, an American literature PhD) will guarantee that you've read X book.
A better analogy might be: You've read 5 books by Herman Melville but don't know that he wrote some mediocre Civil War poetry. I haven't read any books by Melville but know he wrote something called Battle Pieces. Consequently, I beat you to a Melville tossup despite having much, much less knowledge than you.

The difference between the literature and science canons though is that there's so much literature out there that there's no way someone's going to memorize all the titles of everything ever. So you can do things like write a tossup on a new author without worrying too much about the fact that someone has a laundry list of titles memorized. The set of named things in physics is much smaller, so if you know that basically every tournament is going to feature tossups on various effects, you just look up the other words associated with them and voila! you're a physicist, at least as far as quizbowl is concerned.
I agree that in general, most science questions need to draw from material you'd actually encounter when academically studying a topic, but I don't think that implies you can't have any answer lines where there's not a huge clue differential between people who've taken advanced physics classes or whatever and people who haven't.
I take it as axiomatic that studying a subject should get me points in a game which ostensibly hinges on the concept of awarding points to people who know more about a thing than other people. If a question fails to distinguish between someone who spent 10 years studying a subject and someone who read a wikipedia article, it's a bad question.
I don't like, expect all the history questions I hear to be filled with clues on primary sources or historiography (or to be on answer lines that lend themselves to such a structure). It doesn't at all strike me as problematic that Jerry could spend an hour one day reading an essay about the Ethiopian-Eritrean war and beat me to a question on it because the leadin wasn't on one of the primary sources I read for my paper.
I guess it could conceivably happen, but given that history is ridiculously broad, this would be a once-in-a-blue-moon event. It's simply not possible to do this to any real extent in either history or literature because the space of possible answers and clues is so large. This happens all the time in science; if this were just a one-off, I wouldn't bother noting it, but it's a chronic and persistent problem especially in the physical sciences.
I'm not sure why it would be patently unacceptable if Auroni read an article and further researched some topic and was able to beat a physicist because the first clues were something that could be understood without having to take advanced thermodynamics or whatever.
Hey let's write bio questions about weird bugs because I like weird bugs and I really hate all this bullshit about proteins and metabolic pathways and UGH THE HEGEMONY OF THE BIOLOGISTS IS SO UNFAIR.
Perhaps I'm not understanding Jerry's argument correctly (apologies if that's the case), but it does seem to me like we don't come close to applying this standard to any other categories. Nor should we, because it doesn't at all benefit the game to fill the law subdistribution with tossups on constructive trust or other stuff appropriate only for Andrew Hart Law Bowl - let's be clear, I am not arguing that we need to overhaul how we write about non-science categories (or how we write about science categories, either).
Actually we do: music is a great example. There's no way for me (except by dumb luck) to beat John Lawrence to a music tossup. Look at the way those questions are written: they contain technical detail that becomes progressively easier and then there's some kind of giveaway that makes it possible for know-nothings like myself to answer the question. That's fine, that's how it should be. But it's also the case that science is not like other categories. It's not like history or literature, for reasons I've delineated above and also because the methodology of expertise acquisition is different.
I am, however, questioning why there's something inherently wrong with having some questions in the science distribution that don't automatically place people who've taken higher level classes in that area in a position of advantage over people who have read perhaps significantly about the topic, but can't understand the mechanics of physics equations. Note, here, that I'm distinguishing "taken higher level classes in the same general area of science" from "studied this specific thing," which IS akin to reading or studying a novel.
I don't understand this. All things being equal, a good question should advantage someone who knows a lot about the material. If I have read a lot of Heinrich Boll, then I should be advantaged on Heinrich Boll tossups. If your tossup on Heinrich Boll is a list of his works, you have destroyed most of the advantage I might accrue from reading them. This is bad for reasons which I really don't think I should need to explain.

If you don't understand the mechanics of the physics equation, you are in the same position as someone who has not read the book. You may still answer the question in the end based on your folk understanding, but all other things being equal, you should be at a disadvantage against someone who does understand what's going on. The name Moller-Plesset means nothing to me, but I know how to do perturbation theory because I've spent years doing it. Because I know more about perturbation theory than you, I should be able to beat you to a tossup on it.
And for what's it's worth, geology/earth science questions frequently bear almost NO actual relation to what geologists actually study. In fact, many questions I hear about geophysics more often than not are outdated (sometimes by like, a century!), filled with lies, or are on geomagnetic reversals. There aren't really any geologists around in quizbowl to bitch about this, so it's largely unaddressed and in theory it's no harder for me to get one of those tossups on "apatite" or whatever than it is for a science player or even for a mineralogists. My question here is, so what? Science players still seem to get those questions, there's clearly not some kind of big crisis where we can't have mineralogy questions anymore because THEY TOOK OUR JOBS, and the quizbowl world as we know it is still fine. I'm not sure why a similar standard can't be applied to other areas of science, though I freely admit I don't have enough of a scientific background to know whether there's an element of this situation I'm just not capable of grasping. Hopefully nobody writes a tossup on that.
Yes, this sucks. So change it by writing good geoscience questions. For what it's worth though, geoscientists spend a ridiculous amount of time studying rock compositions, but endless tossups on rocks are boring and dumb and we can do better.
Last edited by grapesmoker on Mon Aug 01, 2011 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: ANNOUNCEMENT: Chicago Open 2011 (July 30, 2011)

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 5:20 pm

Tower Monarch wrote:I think the primary difference between what Jerry was saying and your example would be that in your example, the subject actually came up in your academic study of history and somebody read up on what ended up being the lead-in. The parallel of that for Jerry would be somebody first-lining a tossup on CMB stuff because someone else had recently read journal articles on it. I think Jerry would be ok with that, as long as the next clue would have given it to him against any other player.On the other hand, the example he gives translates to tossing up an individual author of a historical account that is rarely cited in historical literature because the guy has a funny name and a long wiki article or something. You would have no chance on that, but some high schooler might nail the question because he was looking through some wiki category page. This is an example of poor answer selection, which is what Jerry is focusing on.
I think Cameron is doing a good job of articulating what I'm trying to say here. Yeah, I mean, I have no problem with someone who read some article or something beating me on a deep clue. But if a tossup starts with "It experiences the Sachs-Wolfe effect," then hey, you've just nullified any advantage I might have gotten from spending 5 years in grad school studying this.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by theMoMA » Mon Aug 01, 2011 5:54 pm

Conversely, as someone who has dedicated a not-insignificant amount of my academic life to literature, I find it somewhat distasteful that you write your literature tossups with no regard for what is studied in my academic discipline. Regardless of how great the New York Review of Books is, its contents do not come anywhere close to approximating the kind of things that a typical lit student studies. Yet it seems to me (from both discussion and practice) that you would have literature as a category in which anything that a person might find interesting and rewarding to read in an edifying sense is appropriate for quizbowl.

But you can't have it both ways here. Don't mistake this as me saying that we can never write on things that are interesting and rewarding but understudied, because my point is that we can (and on that point, I appreciate many of your exploratory efforts). It's just more than a little absurd to argue that we can never do that in the categories that you studied, but we should favor it in the ones that I studied. Just like you wouldn't like it if I wrote the entirety of a lit distribution from the American and British Norton Anthologies and the science entirely from a list of things that a fan of Popular Science would think are cool, I don't appreciate the argument for the converse. Look, I've read pretty much every work in the basic American and British canons at this point. I'm not saying that's all that should come up, but I shouldn't be sitting through CO thinking, wow, it would be really nice if something I've read comes up. I've read too much important stuff for that to happen time and again. But that's how it always happens, even at exemplary hard events like this recent CO, and it nearly completely neutralizes my biggest advantage over almost anyone else in quizbowl.

I'm not arguing this point: science is different from literature in that the circle of things worth asking about diverges far less from the circle of things that are studied in science classes than in lit classes. There are simply way more deserving things out there in literature than a standardized education could possibly cover. Consequently, in practice, it's acceptable to have more literature outside of the standard education than science. But that doesn't mean that the analysis is completely different for science, as you seem to propose. Apply the same standard and we should both be happy: a few questions here and there in the science can probe things that the layman would find "interesting," and a larger percentage of the questions in the harder tournaments can reward knowledge of literature that most literature students actually study.

And for what it's worth, I thought that flare stars tossup was stupid.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Mon Aug 01, 2011 6:07 pm

The stricter your standards for science questions, the fewer people will be able to write them well.

Any idiot can write a decent literature or history tossup, even with little background on the topic. But it's almost impossible for a non-scientist to write a good science question that won't be savaged by Jerry or other scientists on the internet. So you have a situation in which a small cadre of science editors have to write most of the science questions, or else disaster results.

I'm not saying that having high standards for science questions is a bad thing, or advocating any kind of change at all, I'm just pointing out that there is another edge to the realification of science sword.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 6:37 pm

theMoMA wrote:Conversely, as someone who has dedicated a not-insignificant amount of my academic life to literature, I find it somewhat distasteful that you write your literature tossups with no regard for what is studied in my academic discipline.
I am pretty sure that is not, in fact, true.
Regardless of how great the New York Review of Books is, its contents do not come anywhere close to approximating the kind of things that a typical lit student studies. Yet it seems to me (from both discussion and practice) that you would have literature as a category in which anything that a person might find interesting and rewarding to read in an edifying sense is appropriate for quizbowl.
People read lots of different things for lots of different reasons that are as heterogenous as the readers themselves. Outside of a few core texts (nowhere near enough to fill a literature distribution) there is no one set of things that everybody reads. By contrast, the science canon is far more unified. There really is one basic program that every physicist or mathematician in the country goes through (with some minor variations for electives).
But you can't have it both ways here. Don't mistake this as me saying that we can never write on things that are interesting and rewarding but understudied, because my point is that we can (and on that point, I appreciate many of your exploratory efforts). It's just more than a little absurd to argue that we can never do that in the categories that you studied, but we should favor it in the ones that I studied.
I didn't say that we shouldn't write exploratory questions. I'm saying that much of the question writing that does go on is bad either from the standpoint of construction (buzzwords, lack of any relation to actually knowing something about physics) or from the standpoint of answer choice (obscurata). This isn't really a problem with literature.
Just like you wouldn't like it if I wrote the entirety of a lit distribution from the American and British Norton Anthologies and the science entirely from a list of things that a fan of Popular Science would think are cool, I don't appreciate the argument for the converse. Look, I've read pretty much every work in the basic American and British canons at this point. I'm not saying that's all that should come up, but I shouldn't be sitting through CO thinking, wow, it would be really nice if something I've read comes up. I've read too much important stuff for that to happen time and again. But that's how it always happens, even at exemplary hard events like this recent CO, and it nearly completely neutralizes my biggest advantage over almost anyone else in quizbowl.
You are conflating what I would enjoy playing with what I think is good question writing. I would probably be very bored with much of what you might choose as your ideal lit distribution; however, this would not make it illegitimate in any way. It would just be my aesthetic preference. But if your questions were just laundry lists of titles, that would be bad, and that would be a problem with the questions themselves.

A few things I've read came up at this CO. Most of the things that did come up I cared nothing for. But I don't have any complaints about the literature at CO.
I'm not arguing this point: science is different from literature in that the circle of things worth asking about diverges far less from the circle of things that are studied in science classes than in lit classes. There are simply way more deserving things out there in literature than a standardized education could possibly cover. Consequently, in practice, it's acceptable to have more literature outside of the standard education than science. But that doesn't mean that the analysis is completely different for science, as you seem to propose. Apply the same standard and we should both be happy: a few questions here and there in the science can probe things that the layman would find "interesting," and a larger percentage of the questions in the harder tournaments can reward knowledge of literature that most literature students actually study.
I'm not talking about a situation where someone writes one question on a weird thing. I'm trying not to get bogged down in discussion of this one tossup, which I continue thinking is pretty dumb, and moving to a discussion of the state of writing itself. And the state of writing is such that much of the time it does not reward having actual knowledge of the material and does reward memorizing random shit for no good reason. I highly doubt that esoteric topics like Andreyev reflection have any serious interest for laypeople in and of themselves.

I am arguing that questions should be written to advantage those who are most knowledgeable in the material. I am making the point that many questions in certain categories are habitually written in such a way that does not give any advantage to people who study the material, and I think this should change. The situation in other categories is, by and large, not analogous.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Tower Monarch » Mon Aug 01, 2011 6:59 pm

The War (boxing) wrote:The stricter your standards for science questions, the fewer people will be able to write them well.

Any idiot can write a decent literature or history tossup, even with little background on the topic. But it's almost impossible for a non-scientist to write a good science question that won't be savaged by Jerry or other scientists on the internet. So you have a situation in which a small cadre of science editors have to write most of the science questions, or else disaster results.

I'm not saying that having high standards for science questions is a bad thing, or advocating any kind of change at all, I'm just pointing out that there is another edge to the realification of science sword.
This is pretty true, though it's been noted that focus on titles and insignificant people have hurt literature and history writing. Science is really hard to write well, with possibly only non-Opera Music being harder. I've been awaiting something Andy Watkins mentioned in the How to Become a Good Science Player thread:
Mechanical Beasts wrote:
Ondes Martenot wrote:Again though, a lack of understanding about the core concepts can make these resources difficult to understand.
I've been trying to figure out a good way to put into words a post about understanding how to identify what's unique and what isn't about science terms for quizbowl study purposes. (i.e., clues about how system x "can be modeled by a Hamiltonian" are obviously not unique, but that's not obvious to someone who knows zero science)
If experienced writer/editor/players like Andy, Jerry, Eric, Gautam, etc could actually assemble some sort of guide for the non-scientist to identify clues that are not just named effects and theorems, then with some work (which is always going to be necessary with good question writing), people with only passing science knowledge should be able to write quality science at most levels, IMHO.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Mon Aug 01, 2011 8:35 pm

Yeah, I'm gonna make the same kind of argument that Bruce is making.

I don't have any problem with a fellow like Jerry moaning and groaning on some questions like flare stars - I totally get that, it's frustrating on a gut level while you're playing.

But, I think the practical extension of Jerry's position is that: the only way we would be happy with science questions is if the editor is Seth Teitler, Mike Sorice, or Jerry himself. Almost every single other writer - even very knowledge science folks like Gautam - just can't meet the standards that are being proposed, at least across a range of several science genres. I'm not saying the standard is wrong (though, I could argue that, I'm not doing so here) - I'm just looking at the practical consequences.

I don't buy what Cameron says at all - with science and music, we've really gotten to a point where you can't "coach up" writers other than the handful of two or three expert writers. The only people who are going to meet the standard proposed are the people who are both (1) a very good qb writer in general and (2) an expert in the subject (meaning every subtopic of science)
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Magister Ludi » Mon Aug 01, 2011 9:08 pm

Andrew made the post I was going to make while I was writing it. Honestly, I don't know how many English majors need to tell Jerry what we study for him to believe us. Basically, a physics tossup on the Miller Effect is equivalent to a literature tossup on Joao Guimaraes Rosa or Vincente Aleixandre. It's not that those writers are completely unimportant to all readers, just like I'm sure the Miller Effect is pretty important to Mr. Miller, but too many questions on shit like this basically mitigates any advantage that a literature major has from devoting his academic attention to actually reading literature. Let me offer an example, Dallas spent a couple hours on Wikipedia putting together a list of minor authors and their works from some lesser-asked about countries. During the playoffs at ACF this year that list got him four European and World literature tossups while I answered zero European and World literature tossups, even though I've devoted countless hours of my life to reading thousands of pages of world literature. Can there be one tossup on a Garcia-Marquez or Gordimer book? No. Because that would mean sacrificing that "important" tossup on Uruguay's greatest novelist.

Jerry has astutely pointed argued, "I take it as axiomatic that studying a subject should get me points in a game which ostensibly hinges on the concept of awarding points to people who know more about a thing than other people. If a question fails to distinguish between someone who spent 10 years studying a subject and someone who read a wikipedia article, it's a bad question."

So is it good question writing to reward the person who spends a couple hours on Wikipedia memorizing titles with lots of tossups or the person who has devoted hundreds of hours reading world literature? Now, you might respond with the claim that someone could feasibly have real knowledge of some crazy subject, but isn't it possible that someone could have real knowledge of the Miller Effect? There is pretty much the same likelihood that someone will have real knowledge of the Miler Effect as they will have real knowledge of Aucassin and Nicolette.

Now, I'm sure Jerry will respond by saying I'm judging things based entirely on my eccentric and self-serving personal taste that deems anything I miss a tossup on to be unimportant, but actually I'm using the same criterion that Jerry is adopting. He has spent lots of time studying physics and has never heard of the Miller Effect, while myself (and others like Andrew Hart, Evan Adams, etc) have spent a significant amount of time studying world literature and we've never come across a strong majority of the answer choices at ACF. I praised the English-language literate at ACF and the literature at this tournament even though neither of them had many tossups on writers that I personally like or have spent much time reading, while I criticized CO 2010 even though it had many questions on my pet writers like Stevens, Nabokov, Faulkner, Greene etc. I would hope that Jerry would consider that if he claims that all physics questions should reward his academic study than he would be able to agree that a good number of literature questions should be included in every hard tournament that rewards the academic work of English majors.

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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 10:03 pm

I should have guessed that this thread would be yet another opportunity for Ted to engage in some victim-like posturing about how hard it is to be an Anglophone in a multicultural world or something.
Magister Ludi wrote:Andrew made the post I was going to make while I was writing it. Honestly, I don't know how many English majors need to tell Jerry what we study for him to believe us. Basically, a physics tossup on the Miller Effect is equivalent to a literature tossup on Joao Guimaraes Rosa or Vincente Aleixandre.
No, it isn't, and for you to even say this demonstrates a fantastic amount of ignorance not just about science but also about literature. Sorry that major figures of other literary traditions are not acceptable tossup material for you.
It's not that those writers are completely unimportant to all readers, just like I'm sure the Miller Effect is pretty important to Mr. Miller, but too many questions on shit like this basically mitigates any advantage that a literature major has from devoting his academic attention to actually reading literature. Let me offer an example, Dallas spent a couple hours on Wikipedia putting together a list of minor authors and their works from some lesser-asked about countries. During the playoffs at ACF this year that list got him four European and World literature tossups while I answered zero European and World literature tossups, even though I've devoted countless hours of my life to reading thousands of pages of world literature. Can there be one tossup on a Garcia-Marquez or Gordimer book? No. Because that would mean sacrificing that "important" tossup on Uruguay's greatest novelist.
First of all, there wasn't even a tossup on Uruguay's greatest novelist at ACF Nationals, but more importantly, there's no obvious reason why one should prefer the authors you mentioned to the authors that were represented in the set. I won't belabor the point here; you're welcome to start another thread if you want my detailed opinion on this matter. Sorry that apparently you don't read widely enough. Maybe you should make better use of those "countless hours."
Jerry has astutely pointed argued, "I take it as axiomatic that studying a subject should get me points in a game which ostensibly hinges on the concept of awarding points to people who know more about a thing than other people. If a question fails to distinguish between someone who spent 10 years studying a subject and someone who read a wikipedia article, it's a bad question."

So is it good question writing to reward the person who spends a couple hours on Wikipedia memorizing titles with lots of tossups or the person who has devoted hundreds of hours reading world literature? Now, you might respond with the claim that someone could feasibly have real knowledge of some crazy subject, but isn't it possible that someone could have real knowledge of the Miller Effect? There is pretty much the same likelihood that someone will have real knowledge of the Miler Effect as they will have real knowledge of Aucassin and Nicolette.
I've already explained how it's a lot harder to game literature questions. You could spend a lot of time memorizing whatever you want but because the space of possible answers is so large, it's pretty hard to get serious traction out of it. I'm going to guess that Dallas got lucky more than anything; if the positions were reversed and you were the literature editor, presumably I could just as easily spend a lot of time memorizing lists of works from "the canon."
Now, I'm sure Jerry will respond by saying I'm judging things based entirely on my eccentric and self-serving personal taste that deems anything I miss a tossup on to be unimportant, but actually I'm using the same criterion that Jerry is adopting.
No, you're not. The fact that you're having trouble answering questions on non-Anglophone authors while your major is focused primarily on Anglophone literature is nothing at all like me not being able to gain an advantage on a physics question by having a Ph.D. in physics.
He has spent lots of time studying physics and has never heard of the Miller Effect, while myself (and others like Andrew Hart, Evan Adams, etc) have spent a significant amount of time studying world literature and we've never come across a strong majority of the answer choices at ACF. I praised the English-language literate at ACF and the literature at this tournament even though neither of them had many tossups on writers that I personally like or have spent much time reading, while I criticized CO 2010 even though it had many questions on my pet writers like Stevens, Nabokov, Faulkner, Greene etc. I would hope that Jerry would consider that if he claims that all physics questions should reward his academic study than he would be able to agree that a good number of literature questions should be included in every hard tournament that rewards the academic work of English majors.
This makes very little sense to me. So CO 2010 had plenty of questions on writers that can hardly be said to be out of the mainstream (a debate we already had in the discussion pursuant to that tournament) and yet it was somehow defective? And frankly, I'm calling bullshit on the whole "I've never heard of this writer" act you're putting on here; if it's true, your literary horizons are dismally small.

I'm not terribly interested in rehashing this debate. If you want some useful information on how to write science questions, check back tomorrow. If you want to complain about being asked to read literature outside your comfort zone, I guess you can carry on doing so but I'm not going to be responding to it in this thread.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Mon Aug 01, 2011 10:58 pm

Sorry, Jerry, I gotta take Ted and Andrew's side here. Nobody cares about Kongi's Harvest, however "major" you unilaterally declare it to be. Sources like librarything.com, which you can use to find out what books people actually read, are similarly disdainful of the Buru Quartet, Cities of Salt, and most of the other Nationals world lit answers. When every world lit tossup is on pointless obscurata, it will and very much did turn into title and wikipedia bowl.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:19 pm

Cernel Joson wrote:Sorry, Jerry, I gotta take Ted and Andrew's side here. Nobody cares about Kongi's Harvest, however "major" you unilaterally declare it to be. Sources like librarything.com, which you can use to find out what books people actually read, are similarly disdainful of the Buru Quartet, Cities of Salt, and most of the other Nationals world lit answers. When every world lit tossup is on pointless obscurata, it will and very much did turn into title and wikipedia bowl.
Yes, let's just go back to the point where we were writing increasingly convoluted tossups on Kenzaburo Oe; I'm sure there's some juvenalia somewhere that can serve as a clue that hasn't been mined yet. I'll be sure to take your lofty declarations about who cares about which things into account the next time I sit down to write something.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:51 pm

The way music questions are written has been invoked in several comparisons in this thread. I wanted to speak to this in what is hopefully a non-mafiaesque way.

In spite of the comparisons being made between music and science, music questions very, very rarely use clues that have any relation to the way music is studied academically. I am a good music player not because I have spent years studying music theory and history (quizbowl rarely rewards that), but because I spend a lot of my time listening to a very large selection of music, which means that almost every non-contemporary, non-opera piece of music in the quizbowl is in my iTunes library.

This used to really bug me. And that's why I used to post so often, to really push for music questions to primarily reward academic engagement. You, Jerry, actually were pivotal in convincing me that this was a limited and unhelpful way of approaching questions because it did not allow for the existence of still legitimate forms of intellectual engagement with music done in the absence of any kind of academic understanding. Moreover, it ignored the reality of the field playing the questions, which contained few people who had engaged with music academically, and even fewer people who could write in such a way capably.

I'm not objecting to the fact that you seem to be suggesting a complete double standard with regards to science (i.e. the standard that you're suggesting we apply to science strikes me as exactly like the standard you talked me out of applying to music), because I can see why this double standard might be necessary. There exist non-academic approaches to music that have some sort of legitimacy; legitimate non-academic approaches to science presumably do not exist.

However, I think your stance on literature ignores the reality of the field much more than does Ted's or Andrew's. If Ted is really suggesting that canonical authors and books are all people should be reading or are reading, or that they are all we should be asking about, then I understand brushing him off the way you have. But I think that he is arguing (as are others like Andrew Hart and Matt Bollinger) that those books still make up the core of what is being taught in the academy and are the books quizbowlers are most likely to have read, and that therefore making sure that a large chunk of the lit distribution for any tournament is dedicated to that core is the only way of insuring that one is tossing up books that more than just one or two people have read. Your replies suggest that they are making arguments about importance, but I think they are making arguments about what it is we are most likely to have encountered as students, what we know, and you are the one making arguments about what's important by telling us that we should have read these books. You helped me relax my prescriptivist attitude that said "screw what quizbowlers actually know about music, questions should focus on rewarding an understanding of how music works, even if it harms gameplay", but I think that is exactly the kind of prescriptivism you demonstrate when you brush aside Ted and Andrew's realistic and reasonable explanations of what it is most literature students are being taught to explain to us what we should be reading.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:01 am

Cernel Joson wrote:Sources like librarything.com
I'm jumping in here because, while I'm neither as widely read as Jerry nor a lit major, I can certainly say that if there's a source not to use to determine what people actually read in a meaningful way, it's a site that aggregates everything its users read. Because
1) There's a bias towards "the world literature Americans read" (for better or for worse) because the population of LibraryThing is almost certainly majority American--whether or not that's a good thing, it's certainly well possible that there's a difference between that and what is/ought to be studied
2) There's a bias against "the world literature academics study" because most people on LibraryThing are not academics

If we applied this standard to science, all the questions would be on Einstein-Rosen bridges because they were mentioned in Thor and phasors because they sound like phasers. My personal approach to reading frequently dances among books with literary reputations but is totally scattershot; I would weep if my LibraryThing helped people decide what to write on and mine's probably well above-average.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by DumbJaques » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:16 am

And frankly, I'm calling bullshit on the whole "I've never heard of this writer" act you're putting on here; if it's true, your literary horizons are dismally small.
People at Nationals had not heard of those dudes, or if they had, they could manage only to get buzzes off a title at the end. The actual "literary horizons" of the players in question - or Jerry's assessment of their paucity - kind of becomes academic when you consider the effect it has on gameplay. Even if Jerry's right and we're all uneducated barbarians, the questions still frustrated pretty much every team in attendance in much the exact way that tossups on things like flare stars frustrate Jerry and other physicists.

For the record, though, I do not think we're uneducated barbarians. In fact, I think many of the people I've met through quizbowl are some of the smartest, well-versed, and comprehensively-informed folks I've had the chance to really know (few more so than Jerry himself). For Jerry to sit here and rail about how we're all dismally closed-minded because we don't know who the hell that Saudi Arabian author is strikes me as just a bit silly; frankly you're talking about these people like they're Proust or Manet and just dismissing everyone else as ignorant or similarly stunted for disagreeing. You're rejecting any argument against this position like it's categorically ludicrous because they're clearly so famous or so important or so whatever; I don't even particularly care if they are and I really wouldn't know because frankly my world literature horizons might very well be dismally small.

Either way, I don't think it's so ABSURD to even QUESTION these assumptions that the argument can be batted away so dismissively. And, to return us more to the subject at hand, doing so absolutely fails to address what seems like a valid point Ted and John raise in asking why certain paradigms seem to be applied to some categories and not to others. Again Jerry, I don't know, and I'm not like claiming any superior position, but I certainly do not better understand your argument when you just say "Ted is ignorant for not sharing my appraisals of this topic" or "write good science questions by learning what is important and why it is important and then writing about it" (although I do see you alluding to posting something about the later point tomorrow, in which case I'd retract that criticism).

EDIT:
Cernel Joson wrote:
Sorry, Jerry, I gotta take Ted and Andrew's side here. Nobody cares about Kongi's Harvest, however "major" you unilaterally declare it to be. Sources like librarything.com, which you can use to find out what books people actually read, are similarly disdainful of the Buru Quartet, Cities of Salt, and most of the other Nationals world lit answers. When every world lit tossup is on pointless obscurata, it will and very much did turn into title and wikipedia bowl.


Yes, let's just go back to the point where we were writing increasingly convoluted tossups on Kenzaburo Oe; I'm sure there's some juvenalia somewhere that can serve as a clue that hasn't been mined yet. I'll be sure to take your lofty declarations about who cares about which things into account the next time I sit down to write something.
Seriously, why are you doing this? Do you think this is making people buy into what you're saying? Matt doesn't think answers like Kongi's Harvest or Cities of Salt or that thing Auroni knew are important; maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong (though he's definitely right in noting that it did, as a mere statement of fact, turn into title/wikipedia bowl when played by the teams at Nationals). But that argument has fuck all to do with campaigning for those weird ass Oe questions nobody liked, and I do not understand why you'd suggest that it does.

I cannot imagine how anyone could legitimately believe that there is no other option when writing Nats tossups aside from unintelligible questions on excruciatingly minor works of a well-known Japanese dude or tossing up some work by a guy three people in attendance (two of them high schoolers who cited wikipedia's category page as their source) had heard of. So Matt Bollinger disagrees with your evaluation of an answer's real world importance? The solution is naturally to. . . act like he's an idiot, note that you don't give a fuck what he thinks, and restate his argument as a patently ridiculous straw man? I happen to know Matt Bollinger is not an idiot and in fact does not support 15-line tossups on The Pinch Runner Memorandum that never mention any character names; I think most people here know that too, so I really doubt they could read your response and find it a remotely compelling reason to buy into what you're saying.
There exist non-academic approaches to music that have some sort of legitimacy; legitimate non-academic approaches to science presumably do not exist.
I hope I won't be called a dismally ignorant Aghwee-fellating moron for questioning why, strictly, this HAS to be the case with absolutely every topic that could come up in the science distribution. I'm not trying to push an argument here - I think it's an intriguing question I perhaps lack the technical acumen to answer, and would like to know what other people think.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Charbroil » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:39 am

Is there a spreadsheet with all of the CO 2011 answers available, and, for that matter, the CO 2010 answers for comparison? I thought that having such a spreadsheet was useful for ACF Nationals for getting a broader idea of what kind of answers came up (as opposed to just the relatively few answers people remembered particularly well), and it would be interesting, if it's available, to see how many of the answers people oppose were submitted in packets as opposed to chosen by the editors.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:41 am

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:In spite of the comparisons being made between music and science, music questions very, very rarely use clues that have any relation to the way music is studied academically. I am a good music player not because I have spent years studying music theory and history (quizbowl rarely rewards that), but because I spend a lot of my time listening to a very large selection of music, which means that almost every non-contemporary, non-opera piece of music in the quizbowl is in my iTunes library.
In the same way, I'm a good literature player because I've spent many years reading books. I'm a pretty good history player because I've read a lot of history.
This used to really bug me. And that's why I used to post so often, to really push for music questions to primarily reward academic engagement. You, Jerry, actually were pivotal in convincing me that this was a limited and unhelpful way of approaching questions because it did not allow for the existence of still legitimate forms of intellectual engagement with music done in the absence of any kind of academic understanding. Moreover, it ignored the reality of the field playing the questions, which contained few people who had engaged with music academically, and even fewer people who could write in such a way capably.
Consider the way music questions are largely written: they include technical descriptions of pieces of work which are not accessible to non-musical people like myself. That's fine. The fact that you've been listening to music for a long time is great, but you also have a trained ear and a technical vocabulary, born of theoretical study, that allows you to understand what the descriptions mean. That's the same standard to which I wish to hold science questions. You don't need to know anything about anything to buzz on "Klein-Nishina" and say "Compton scattering." That's fine for a late, late clue, but prior to that one should use the kinds of clues that give an advantage to someone who understands that vocabulary.
I'm not objecting to the fact that you seem to be suggesting a complete double standard with regards to science (i.e. the standard that you're suggesting we apply to science strikes me as exactly like the standard you talked me out of applying to music), because I can see why this double standard might be necessary. There exist non-academic approaches to music that have some sort of legitimacy; legitimate non-academic approaches to science presumably do not exist.
The problem is not with "non-academic" approaches to science. The problem is that science, particularly physics, is unified in a way that literature and history and maybe music (though I can't speak to that one too well) are not. By "unified," I mean that to understand what a given scientific or mathematical statement means involves mastery of a (nearly) universally accepted vocabulary: a derivative is a derivative in Berkeley and Heidelberg and Moscow State University. There are of course successive degrees of comprehension, some of which are accessible to people whose mathematical vocabulary is not as well developed (for whatever it's worth my comprehension of high-energy physics is severely limited as a consequence of my limitations as a mathematician). But it's almost a tautology that the better your grasp of the math, the stronger your understanding, much like I'd imagine one's grasp of music becomes much more meaningful as one's understanding of the terminology improves along with one's ear.

What you do as a scientist-in-training is you learn to master that vocabulary. It doesn't matter whether that training happens in the formal context of the academy or because you love reading textbooks and decided to teach yourself general relativity. If you don't want to take the time to master the formalism and want the popular description, that's ok; but your popular description will correspond to a popular understanding. It's like reading a synopsis instead of reading the book, quite literally.
However, I think your stance on literature ignores the reality of the field much more than does Ted's or Andrew's. If Ted is really suggesting that canonical authors and books are all people should be reading or are reading, or that they are all we should be asking about, then I understand brushing him off the way you have. But I think that he is arguing (as are others like Andrew Hart and Matt Bollinger) that those books still make up the core of what is being taught in the academy and are the books quizbowlers are most likely to have read, and that therefore making sure that a large chunk of the lit distribution for any tournament is dedicated to that core is the only way of insuring that one is tossing up books that more than just one or two people have read. Your replies suggest that they are making arguments about importance, but I think they are making arguments about what it is we are most likely to have encountered as students, what we know, and you are the one making arguments about what's important by telling us that we should have read these books. You helped me relax my prescriptivist attitude that said "screw what quizbowlers actually know about music, questions should focus on rewarding an understanding of how music works, even if it harms gameplay", but I think that is exactly the kind of prescriptivism you demonstrate when you brush aside Ted and Andrew's realistic and reasonable explanations of what it is most literature students are being taught to explain to us what we should be reading.
The problem with claiming that there is some "core" of what's being taught in the academy is that you have to substantiate that claim. For scientific disciplines, this is trivial to do; there's no debate in physics over whether or not students should learn quantum mechanics. Every undergrad and graduate student does so. As for fields like literature and history, it depends entirely on what you're studying. Just using my alma mater as an example, the English major at Berkeley is one of the more rigid literature majors, in that you do a wide survey of English (and some American) literature, with special emphasis on Shakespeare. If on the other hand you're majoring in Spanish, the requirements are pretty loose: you might take courses that focus on the short story, or a specific time period, or whatever else. There is some nebulously defined set of things that are going to get touched upon more than others but outside of a few authors it's pretty open.

A great number of the things that come up in the quizbowl literature canon don't come up because people read them in school. They read some of them, sure, but a survey course in English literature isn't going to have you reading five books by George Gissing, or even necessarily five books by Thomas Hardy or Howells. Certainly you might encounter something weird like Anthony Adverse in a class, but more likely you won't. And yet we ask about all sorts of things that aren't widely read all the time; this has nothing to do with how often these things are assigned in class and everything to do with the way trends are followed in quizbowl as a community. The tendency is then to rationalize those trends in a post hoc manner.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:55 am

DumbJaques wrote:For the record, though, I do not think we're uneducated barbarians. In fact, I think many of the people I've met through quizbowl are some of the smartest, well-versed, and comprehensively-informed folks I've had the chance to really know (few more so than Jerry himself). For Jerry to sit here and rail about how we're all dismally closed-minded because we don't know who the hell that Saudi Arabian author is strikes me as just a bit silly; frankly you're talking about these people like they're Proust or Manet and just dismissing everyone else as ignorant or similarly stunted for disagreeing. You're rejecting any argument against this position like it's categorically ludicrous because they're clearly so famous or so important or so whatever; I don't even particularly care if they are and I really wouldn't know because frankly my world literature horizons might very well be dismally small.
Some people have heard of some things and not others. That's the way it goes. I'm not claiming you're dumb for not having heard of Abdelrahman Munif; I'm telling you that he's widely read by people who are interested in Arabic literature, a fact that has nothing to do with my love or lack thereof for him. He's a reasonable topic for a question in that area. I'm sure there are even more good writers within that circle that are also much read and whom I don't know, but I'm not saying, oh this guy is totally worthless and who cares about him.
Seriously, why are you doing this? Do you think this is making people buy into what you're saying? Matt doesn't think answers like Kongi's Harvest or Cities of Salt or that thing Auroni knew are important; maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong (though he's definitely right in noting that it did, as a mere statement of fact, turn into title/wikipedia bowl when played by the teams at Nationals). But that argument has fuck all to do with campaigning for those weird ass Oe questions nobody liked, and I do not understand why you'd suggest that it does.
I don't know how to refute incredulous stares other than with dismissal. Why would I care what librarything has to say about anything? How is that even the slightest bit relevant?
I cannot imagine how anyone could legitimately believe that there is no other option when writing Nats tossups aside from unintelligible questions on excruciatingly minor works of a well-known Japanese dude or tossing up some work by a guy three people in attendance (two of them high schoolers who cited wikipedia's category page as their source) had heard of. So Matt Bollinger disagrees with your evaluation of an answer's real world importance? The solution is naturally to. . . act like he's an idiot, note that you don't give a fuck what he thinks, and restate his argument as a patently ridiculous straw man? I happen to know Matt Bollinger is not an idiot and in fact does not support 15-line tossups on The Pinch Runner Memorandum that never mention any character names; I think most people here know that too, so I really doubt they could read your response and find it a remotely compelling reason to buy into what you're saying.
I don't think Matt's an idiot by any means; I simply think his argument is irrelevant and has no substance. I don't know what to say to "nobody cares about Kongi's Harvest," a question I didn't even write (though I did let it through). Clearly at least some people care about it and I fail to see how Matt's point is substantiated by references to librarything, so... whatever?

I'm not out to convince anyone that my decisions with regards to literature questions are somehow impeccable. I'm saying that other literary traditions exist, and just because some dude came up that you didn't know doesn't mean he's magically obscure and unimportant; it could well mean that you just don't know a lot about that literary tradition. I can spend a lot of time proving to you that Jose Guimaraes Rosa (also not my question) is an important dude in the literature of Brazil, but in order to be susceptible to that proof you have to believe that literature doesn't end at the boundaries of your survey class. It seems like a lot of people have a hard time figuring that out.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by theMoMA » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:11 am

I think you're misreading. My argument has never been that every answer line has to pass below some kind of gate of notability or canonicity. But I do think that it's entirely self-contradictory to claim that science must be completely grounded in the standardized education while literature can be some kind of playground for whatever a learned enthusiast wants to write. I like it when people decide to explore; I think it's one of the best qualities that a writer can have. But I also dislike playing hard tournaments that negate the advantage of my years of academic study. I'd like to see editors and writers adopt a more balanced approach.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Magister Ludi » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:12 am

ThisIsMyUsername wrote: However, I think your stance on literature ignores the reality of the field much more than does Ted's or Andrew's. If Ted is really suggesting that canonical authors and books are all people should be reading or are reading, or that they are all we should be asking about, then I understand brushing him off the way you have. But I think that he is arguing (as are others like Andrew Hart and Matt Bollinger) that those books still make up the core of what is being taught in the academy and are the books quizbowlers are most likely to have read, and that therefore making sure that a large chunk of the lit distribution for any tournament is dedicated to that core is the only way of insuring that one is tossing up books that more than just one or two people have read. Your replies suggest that they are making arguments about importance, but I think they are making arguments about what it is we are most likely to have encountered as students, what we know, and you are the one making arguments about what's important by telling us that we should have read these books. You helped me relax my prescriptivist attitude that said "screw what quizbowlers actually know about music, questions should focus on rewarding an understanding of how music works, even if it harms gameplay", but I think that is exactly the kind of prescriptivism you demonstrate when you brush aside Ted and Andrew's realistic and reasonable explanations of what it is most literature students are being taught to explain to us what we should be reading.
Thank you for being the voice of reason. John clearly articulated the central point I was trying to make in a far less angry and convoluted way than I did. As I said above, "I would hope that Jerry would consider that if he claims that all physics questions should reward his academic study than he would be able to agree that a good number of literature questions should be included in every hard tournament that rewards the academic work of English majors." I was actually trying to adopt a middle ground position, which Jerry has distorted to be an extreme denunciation of all world literature.

I was going to write a very angry response to Jerry with fuck appearing as every third word, but I'm going to try to approach this calmly. Above, Jerry engaged in the exact speculative psychological demonization that I predicted he would use to dismiss the rationale behind my post. He positioned my post simply as the crazed ramblings of an "Anglophone" who hates the "major figures of other literary traditions" and complains about "having trouble answering questions on non-Anglophone authors while your major is focused primarily on Anglophone literature." Ironically, Jerry seems to be engaging in the very behavior he claims his critics are by First of all, it's incredibly annoying that he pretends he knows the books I read, and my continual commentary on this issue actually derives from the fact that I read so much European and World literature. Frankly, I'm willing to bet that I've read more world literature than Jerry (and certainly have taken many more classes about world and European literature) and accordingly that is why I'm so interested in this issue because at higher level tournaments it seems like people are excessively rewarded for having superficial knowledge of lesser known authors while people with primary knowledge of truly canonical writers (who we can all agree are self-evidently important) are penalized. I think this is pretty similar to the problem with Wikipedia science that Jerry comments on above.

I don't want to embarrass Jerry by going through his entire post and point out exactly how wrong-headed and petty his defense of his position has become over time, but some of these claims are genuinely ridiculous. Jerry is "calling bullshit on the whole "I've never heard of this writer" act you're putting on here" as though Andrew Hart and I were putting on an act and intentionally missing tossups on these obscure world literature figures at ACF Nationals to prove some philosophical point. And apparently "if it's true, your literary horizons are dismally small" which means that almost everybody in the ACF field has "dismally small" literary horizons because we've never heard of Guimaraes Rosa. Honestly, this issue has very little to do with people like Andrew and me trying to censure people from ever writing on expanded literature answers, but rather trying to enable writers to write questions to reward the real knowledge that people who study this topic actually have.

While literature is not exactly analogous to science, I'm hoping that Jerry is willing to acknowledge he has adopted a somewhat hypocritical double standard. If all science questions should be written to reward people with academic knowledge, it seems odd that literature majors can't receive any of the same benefits. The issue isn't that Aleixandre or Cities of Salt are inherently unimportant, but that many hard tournaments have no range of difficulty within their questions. Despite claims to the contrary there is a pretty well-defined sense of the canon (and upon entrance into grad school students are given a list of canonical books they must read within the first year and be tested on) This canon is more fluid in the sense some universities or professors might over-value one figure while ignoring another, but there is a remarkable amount of overlap between the authors studied at Minnesota and Harvard or in most literature departments. While science has a more rigid and exact set of topics mastered, almost all comparative literature majors will have to read the Inferno, Flaubert, Tolstoy (and I could go on listing literally hundreds of titles), while almost no world literature concentrators will even have the chance to take a class that assigns Guimaraes-Rosa. Literature majors should not have all questions tailored to their study, but should be able to go to any hard tournament secure in the knowledge that they will have an opportunity to answer a good number of tossups that actually deals with the material that they have devoted their academic careers to.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:16 am

I haven't seen the set so I can't speak to that specific question on the Miller effect, but I have studied it, so some comments: Jerry, the reason you didn't learn about it in all those solid state classes is because it's really an electrical engineering topic. I'm not sure how well I can explain it to the layman, but here's an explanation for the scientists: In any transistor, BJT or FET, there are multiple capacitances arising from charge storage and depletion regions at the junctions. Capacitors act as short circuits at high-frequencies, which limits the bandwidth of the amplifier. The configurations that give the highest amplification voltage gain are called CE (common emitter) for the bipolar transistor and CS (common source) for the field effect transistor. The problem is that, in these configurations, the parasitic capacitances are multiplied by the gain, which reduces the bandwidth even further - this is the Miller effect. This was the driving force behind the invention of the 'cascode' amplifier, which uses a second transistor to extend the bandwidth.

Was this miller effect question a tossup or a bonus part? The effect is quite important in analog circuit design, so I'm fine with it as the hard part of a Nats or CO bonus. For what it's worth, I don't miss my analog circuits class one bit.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 02, 2011 1:50 am

Aaron, it was a bonus. This makes more sense if it was an engineering question (which I guess it might have been; I thought it was a physics bonus but could well have been mistaken about that).

Ted, I have no idea what you're even trying to say. In all my exchanges with you, you have yet to put forth anything like a coherent theory of what should or should not be written about. I don't know what books you read and have never pretended to; I am restating, for the last time, my point regarding the fact that the so-called "canon" is actually quite heterogenous and includes lots of different things. For a modern Arabic-language author, Munif is a perfectly reasonable choice. For a major Brazilian author of the 20th century, Rosa is a perfectly reasonable choice. Combined all those choices ended up producing a tournament that was certainly too hard for the field; this is not in dispute. But your reaction of "who the fuck are these people anyway and why should I have to know this" is juvenile.

edit: incidentally, in light of Aaron's point, I'll go ahead and retract my incredulity at bonus parts on the Miller effect, seeing as how it apparently belongs to an entirely different part of the distribution than I thought it did.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Magister Ludi » Tue Aug 02, 2011 4:35 am

grapesmoker wrote:
Ted, I have no idea what you're even trying to say. In all my exchanges with you, you have yet to put forth anything like a coherent theory of what should or should not be written about. I don't know what books you read and have never pretended to; I am restating, for the last time, my point regarding the fact that the so-called "canon" is actually quite heterogenous and includes lots of different things. For a modern Arabic-language author, Munif is a perfectly reasonable choice. For a major Brazilian author of the 20th century, Rosa is a perfectly reasonable choice. Combined all those choices ended up producing a tournament that was certainly too hard for the field; this is not in dispute. But your reaction of "who the fuck are these people anyway and why should I have to know this" is juvenile.
Please, please, please, please think about engaging the actual logic of the argument that many people have articulated in this thread, rather than distorting the issue. If the reaction of other posters in this thread says anything, it seems to suggest that they find Andrew and my line of reasoning much more "coherent" than your own. So let me break down the theory and restate the same thing that John has said once in this thread, Andrew has said twice, and I've said three times in overly thorough language so hopefully this time it will become apparent.

1) I am not saying that a tossup on Munif or any of the other examples is an illegitimate answer choice. If I were saying ""who the fuck are these people anyway and why should I have to know this" that would be problematic, but this is exactly what I am not saying. This is not exactly what I am not arguing. To understand the simple, common-sense position that Andrew and I have adopted, you need to get this first point (which apparently is near impossible for you to grasp.) I sincerely hope that I will not wake up in the morning to discover that there is another post that accuses me of dismissing these answers as illegitimate.

2) After establishing that there are countless potential topics that are both legitimate and important, the dilemma turns to deciding how we want to pick answers. You are correct to state that literature classes have a more heterogeneous canon than science. However, that does not mean that there aren't many figures whose place is firmly secure in all iterations of the canon. Both comparative literature and English grad students have to take a general exam in which they are given a lengthy list of canonical books they're expected to have read and be familiar with. Now especially for comp lit grad students that list will be affected by their area of concentration, but certain figures will definitely appear on every single one of these lists (which I know for a fact because I have many friends who are comp lit grad students). Flaubert will be on every list, Balzac will be on every list, Kafka will be on every list, but maybe for one or two comp lit grad students who are specializing in a specific field like the Arabic novel they might be assigned someone like Munif. Now, I'm not saying Munif has no place in a heterogeneous canon nor am I saying that he can never come up. But objectively he is on the fringes of the canon.

[Note: Please, please do not say I'm maligning Munif's importance in this paragraph, but rather stating an objective fact about the kind of knowledge people have.]

3) The question becomes whether we want to have a majority of our questions on topics that lie on the fringe of the canon that might reward some fabled specialist who happens be one of the few people who encounter this topic. Or we could write a good number of questions on the topics that we know has a firm place in any version of a literary canon, and more importantly, will definitely reward many players who we know are likely to have real knowledge about a book. This is not an either-or situation, but rather it is a question of how we want to shape our priorities.

I have to give Jerry credit for enunciated my feelings about this issue earlier in the thread:
grapesmoker wrote: I want to see more tossups like that tossup on "fields" that focus on understanding basic but important concepts and fewer questions on ungettable bullshit no one would care about in the slightest if it didn't get them points from other people's bad writing.
While I agree with this sentiment, I actually am espousing a much more moderate view that this. I don't think there should never be tossups on "ungettable bullshit no one would care about in the slightest if it didn't get them points from other people's writing" but I believe that students of literature would like to have more tossups that (as you put it) "focus on understanding basic but important concepts and fewer questions on ungettable bullshit."

4) Now I'm going to draw the analogy between the complaints about obscure physics questions to the complaints about literature. You criticized questions on stuff like the Miller Effect as something that doesn't reward actual physics knowledge, but I'd argue there is some student somewhere who might study that effect (and it turns out Aaron has encountered it.) So while that question doesn't reward many players who have real physics knowledge, it could reward a few specialists; it just happens that you had never heard of it and immediately dismissed it as unimportant because you had never encountered it. (Hmm, this line of reasoning sounds eerily similar to some accusations made against people in this thread.) So should we have lots of questions on niche topics within a discipline that focus on the peripheries of the academic canon of a discipline or do we want to ensure that there are lots of tossups on topics that we know are both important and we know people will be knowledgeable about.

The objection to the ACF world and European literature was not that there were some tossups on topics on the fringe of the canons, but that all the playoff tossups were on fringe topics that an editor knows in advance will be converted at an incredibly low rate and will probably not have been read by a single person in the field. Most comp lit grad students (not even considering undergrads) will not have read or encountered Munif, Guimaeraes, Aleixandre, or almost any of the writers selected. But no matter how fluid the literature canon becomes, there are many important writers who you know both academic students of literature and casual readers will have real knowledge about.

5) The people in this thread are not trying to strictly define the canon--which seems to be what you want me to do when you ask for a "coherent" theory of how to approach writing literature. But there is widespread agreement on figures who are universally canonical despite how heterogeneous the canon might become.

Myself and the other reasonable people in this thread are putting forward a very simple and coherent theory: there should be a good number of tossups at any hard tournament focusing on canonical topics that people are likely to have real knowledge about. No one is saying that we should never have questions on stuff like Munif. While I understand you don't believe in a strict canon, you yourself admit that many English majors at Berkeley followed a very regimented reading plan. Accordingly, it's not difficult to know what topics are canonical and are areas where people are likely to have real knowledge about.

6) Finally, Andrew and I find your position hypocritical exactly because you say that all science answers should be chosen to reward people with real knowledge who study a topic academically, but don't extend that policy to literature. We are not even taking the extreme position you espouse that all tossups in this area should be geared to reward academic work, but rather that some tossups must be written to reward people with academic knowledge.

I hope that this over-lengthy explanation will finally get you to discuss the actual logic of the argument rather than make vague insults about people in this thread being "juvenile" or "ignorant" so they don't even deserve a cogent response.

EDIT: Incoherent sleep-deprived grammar
Last edited by Magister Ludi on Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:11 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Auroni » Tue Aug 02, 2011 7:59 am

This hardly needs to be said, but Kafka and Flaubert are not competing for play with Munif... they are in different subdistributions of literature.

This seems to be another debate on where to steer world literature. I will repeat my advocacy of 0.5/0.5 non-Anglophone literature max, with care taken to pick answers that people are likely to know (like a tossup on the _Trueba_ family) instead, minimizing the Munif or Rosa-like answers to 1 or 2 answers. This is also the second tournament to write questions on figures best known for being on the Nobel prize betting pool (Kamal here and Ko Un at ACF Nats), which is a really dumb trend that I think we all agree should go away.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Kyle » Tue Aug 02, 2011 8:33 am

For what it's worth, Abd al-Rahman Munif is assigned in a decent-sized undergraduate lecture class at Harvard, but that class is a modern Middle Eastern history course rather than a literature course. I would venture to guess that most American students who encounter him in class (very, very few in the grand scheme of things) do so through history or Middle East studies classes that talk about oil and modernization in the Gulf rather than through literature classes. This is partly, I think, because Cities of Salt is massive, and historians don't feel bad about assigning parts of novels the way that literature professors do.

Munif would be a perfectly reasonable answer choice from the perspective of people who do Middle Eastern studies. But this is a thread in which the people voicing their opinions (i.e. Jerry, Andrew, Ted, etc.) are people who study (or studied) subjects that they can reasonably expect to get them some points at quizbowl tournaments. I, on the other hand, came to terms with the fact that my classes would never get me points a very long time ago. Nevertheless, it's odd to see that many of the topics that get absolutely the most play in courses about the modern Middle East (for example, the Tanzimat, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh, the Caliphate conferences, Mustafa Kamil, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd Party, Young Egypt, Hasan al-Bana, the French Mandate in Syria, the Arab Revolt, the Iraqi Revolution of 1958 and the associated military actions, etc., etc.) tend to come up only at very high-level tournaments if at all. I'm not complaining; I'm just saying that the connection between quizbowl and class is quite tenuous at best.

Also, I really like how exhausted Ted has become by doing his laundry:
Ted wrote:I sincerely hope that I will not wake up in the ironing to discover that there is another post...
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:22 am

For years now, I have been a vocal opponent of the idea that quizbowl should attempt to match what is taught in the academy.

I use two main arguments:

(1) That there is no "natural canon" that everybody studies. Rather, people study either the specific things that their instructors like or want to promote, or the specific things that they are specializing in. ALTERNATIVELY, if there is a natural canon, it is not large enough to serve as an answer base at any tournament more difficult than, say, ACF Fall.

(2) Most people don't learn their quizbowl knowledge from classes. They learn it from independent reading or "autodidaction" to use a fancy word that came up in IRC last night. Thus, if you write mostly based on what is studied in the academy, there will be a disconnect between what you're asking and what people know. (In part, this links back to argument 1: because we are all highly specialized and more likely to become so over time, we need to be intellectually curious outside of our regular classes to learn things outside our own field).

I also think that there is a third argument to be made: that tossups based on what is taught in the academy would be inherently crappy and play poorly. But I feel so confident in the two enumerated arguments above that I feel no need to make this third argument. But perhaps I will in the future.

I feel extremely confident that these arguments are sound when it comes to history, religion, and mythology, the three subjects I'm probably best qualified to speak about. I'm decently confident that they are also sound for lit: I don't read literature myself, but almost everybody I know reads literature in their spare time, and it seems that even people who study literature in school also do a lot of independent reading outside of their classes and formal studies.

I'm much less confident that these arguments apply to science, however. As Jerry has said, there does appear to be a "natural canon" in science that everybody learns regardless of where they are. And I think much fewer people learn high-level science in their spare time. Anecdotally, when I make the two arguments I enumerated above in general terms, the people who disagree are invariably scientists (mostly Andy Watkins and Auroni Gupta). The fact that scientists think differently about these arguments I think is evidence that science is different.

So, in short, I agree with Jerry.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:26 am

For what it's worth, I'm going to keep defending the "librarything method." It takes a pretty good sample size and tells you how many readers have actually read a given book. Andy, I don't understand your objections to it, since they actually make it a much better source for figuring out what quizbowlers are likely to have read. The vast majority of quizbowlers are Americans; very few quizbowlers focus their academic studies on world literature. It has its biases, but it's an objective metric for how notable a given book is.

EDIT: Bruce, the question at issue is whether what people read, both in classes and in their spare time, is being rewarded by the kinds of world lit questions that have been appearing at hard tournaments. Your point doesn't really have a bearing on that, unless you're arguing that we should ask about whatever we want, in which case...that's a bad idea.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Matt Weiner » Tue Aug 02, 2011 9:54 am

For what it's worth, I find it incredibly amusing to claim that anyone is answering a tossup on Guimares Rosa from real and/or university-sourced knowledge, considering that his magnum opus has been out of print in English for going on fifty years. Is Jerry's theory that a book which runs $300 used and has precisely 45 total copies in North American university libraries, as per Worldcat, is somehow more rewarding of academic knowledge than flare stars? Or perhaps that becoming fluent enough in Brazilian Portuguese to read a notoriously complex novel, often compared to Ulysses, is something one or more members of the 2011 Nationals field have done? If so I will join the chorus of disagreement.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Cheynem » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:03 am

I feel like the "literature" and "science" comparisons do not seem quite fair.

In terms of the literature complaint (such as the very hard foreign authors), the complaints as far as I can tell are "These questions were too hard for the field and do not reflect what the people who study literature who play quizbowl generally have read." However, I don't think anyone is saying "These questions did not reward knowledge of Munif or Rosa" or "If you study Arabic literature or South American literature, you will be completely baffled by these Munif or Rosa questions."

It seems like Jerry is saying is that these science questions that irk him actually do fail the latter criteria, in that he has knowledge of the physical principles associated with the Miller effect or flare stars, but that the questions are written on minute named things or things you might encounter on Wiki articles instead of classrooms. In this analogy, I think it would be like someone complaining that a Fitzgerald tossup was written on "Dan Cody" or a Dos Passos tossup on "Jimmy Herf" because they have names, even though they would be extremely difficult or minute things to ask about (I just picked those names randomly because I actually could remember them, there are better examples).

I don't know if this analogy was fair. In terms of what Jerry is saying about science questions, it makes sense to me, and I agree with Andrew and Ted that I think the literature at Nats was too difficult for the field (I frankly don't care about CO, I complained at the time, but I was wrong, so I apologize). I can see Andrew/Ted wanting to argue against the inclusion of Munif or Rosa--that's a legitimate argument to have--but I wanted to clarify that at least from my perspective, I don't see Jerry as being hypocritical.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Auroni » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:10 am

Yeah, this debate would probably be more fruitful if it went along the lines of "since we need to include Arabic and South American literature at this tournament, what sorts of answers would be ideal, conversion-wise? importance-wise? dopeoplecareaboutthis-wise?" That way we can identify ways to improve sub-distributions that are always going to be there, instead of looking at ways to improve the overall literature category, the rest of which is quite strong.

As Mike said, this is an exact parallel to what Jerry is arguing, which is that the physics sub-category should be written better. He isn't saying that the answers at the tournament don't reflect what scientists care about, something that would be blatantly untrue of this last CO.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Kyle » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:29 am

Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:what sorts of answers would be ideal, conversion-wise? importance-wise? dopeoplecareaboutthis-wise?
The complication here is that these criteria often aren't the same thing at all. Naguib Mahfouz was elevated into the canon by winning the Nobel Prize, meaning that we can have tossups on Midaq Alley (see: 2009 Missouri Open, 2009 Sun N Fun, 2008 ACF Nationals, 2010 Experimental Lit Doubles) without people complaining. Yusuf Idris, who is mentioned only in passing in one tossup that can be found via Gyaankosh, was of more or less equivalent standing in the world of Arabic/Egyptian literature. He and Mahfouz were both nominated multiple times for the Nobel Prize and had something of a rivalry during the time when a lot of people thought the Swedes were "due" to give it to an Arab. When Mahfouz finally won, thus dooming Idris not to win (because that's how the politics of these things work), Idris got really mad and moped around for a long time. Presumably, the main reason he was upset was that he knew he would never become canonical in quizbowl.

And trust me, you aren't actually well-read until you have read about a blind guy not knowing which family member he is having sex with. How could quizbowl not love that?
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Auroni » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:32 am

Kyle wrote:
Blanford's Fringe-fingered Lizard wrote:what sorts of answers would be ideal, conversion-wise? importance-wise? dopeoplecareaboutthis-wise?
The complication here is that these criteria often aren't the same thing at all.
I know that they're not, I was saying that we should balance the world lit subdistribution with answers that meet each of these criteria. I would not be opposed to a Yusuf Idris tossup in a hard tournament that also took care to include Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Chinua Achebe, for instance.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Terrible Shorts Depot » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:39 am

Seemingly after every hard tournament does a wave of opposition to one or several world literature questions come through the forums. Several people come in and say that a tossup on Onetti or a tossup on Guimarães Rosa is categorically too hard, as "no one" reads or has heard of these authors. Jerry promptly, then, posts to say some variation of "read more books by people who aren't white, guys". This little dance continues, often for dozens of posts. Aren't we seeing a pattern? Whether or not Guimarães Rosa or whoever the fuck is good or worthy of reading or important, we have to pay attention to the actual reading habits of real people. Simply, there are too many books for many people to conceivably have actually read widely enough to answer a majority of these ass-hard world literature tossups (the set of people active in quizbowl who read enough to consistently succeed on these questions can be counted on two hands, with fingers left over). I mean, maybe these obscure ass dudes are, in fact, important enough that we should know about them, but, since people who are objectively incredibly well read are placing them out of that category, maybe we, as a community, should reconsider the wisdom of tossups on Brazilian authors who may or may not be the Portuguese-speaking James Joyce. Obviously, there are pet things that each and every one of us thinks should come up more often (African-American topics are woefully underrepresented, for example), but we have to know, as writers and editors, that maybe we should holster that gorgeous tossup on Clifford's Blues because no one will get it, even if my academic adviser thinks it is an amazing novel and an essential to the study of African-American history.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:02 am

grapesmoker wrote: Consider the way music questions are largely written: they include technical descriptions of pieces of work which are not accessible to non-musical people like myself. That's fine. The fact that you've been listening to music for a long time is great, but you also have a trained ear and a technical vocabulary, born of theoretical study, that allows you to understand what the descriptions mean. That's the same standard to which I wish to hold science questions. You don't need to know anything about anything to buzz on "Klein-Nishina" and say "Compton scattering." That's fine for a late, late clue, but prior to that one should use the kinds of clues that give an advantage to someone who understands that vocabulary.
This is simply not true. The majority of clues for music questions are written in complete layman's terms. It takes no technical understanding of music to recognize that a clarinet is playing, or to know that a movement of a piece is marked allegro, which means quickly/brightly. These are the kinds of facts one finds in liner notes for CD's and programs for concerts, which are written specifically for non-musicians. These kinds of clues give me basically zero advantage for understanding a piece or for having studied music academically. The few times that people attempt technical clues, they are usually unhelpful because the writer/editor has little understanding of the technical concepts themselves or how to use them descriptively. Shantanu's questions for CO 2010 and Lully are some of the few I've seen that seemed to consistently try to clue in a technical fashion and succeeded in doing so. Magin's questions for ACF Nationals 2011 were largely devoid of technical clues. I don't want to speculate too much about his intentions, but it looks like he purposely designed the lead-ins to be comprehensible to people without academic music training. He made this approach work by using a very high proportion of common-links and composer questions so that the lead-ins, though in layman's terms, were descriptions of pieces only an avid listener was likely to know.

A year-and-a-half ago, I would have complained about this online, and I think you would have replied to say that asking that the main body of a tossup be dedicated to technical clues that non-musicians cannot penetrate was asking for a tossup that spent most of its time distinguishing between Kevin and me, and which therefore did not particularly serve the rest of the field. Now, I agree with you. Magin's approach to music questions, when executed as well as he did, is a very effective way of distinguishing between legitimate, non-academic kinds of music knowledge that people do actually possess. Until that kind of repertoire knowledge becomes so proliferate that it is no longer a useful distinguishing metric, tossups employing a greater proportion technical clues are not yet strictly necessary.

Just as I have been convinced that there is not much value in my writing music questions that go "You never took AP Music Theory or analyzed this piece in a class? Fuck you! No buzzing for you before the giveaway!", I don't think there is much value in a tossup on a novel nobody has read or has primary knowledge of, so that we must all buzzer race at the giveaway. I'm not denying that these works should come up. I just don't think we're ready for them to be the answer lines to toss-ups.

Magin tested my knowledge of a lot of really important works of music that are underexposed in quizbowl and can't be tossed up yet without frustrating the field at large that does not know these works; he did so by making them bonus parts and lead-ins / early-middle clues to common-links. I hope there is a way to do the same for literature to correct an over-limited canon without strongly negatively impacting gameplay.

If the "core canon" that Ted so strongly advocates is all we ask about, the literature distribution is going to be severely limited and very dull. It will be just a standard university syllabus rather than a slice of literature at large. But I don't know of a way of insuring that literature tossups aren't primarily buzzer races for the current field without making sure that the majority of answer lines are drawn from that core. It seems that you are saying that you are fine with tossing up books that the vast majority of the field has no primary knowledge whatsoever of, so long as they are culturally important/valuable by some form of legitimate real-world metric, because those are things we should learn about and deserve to get tossed up, even though they are not yet good fodder for gameplay. I think Ted is arguing against this (as are others, like myself), and it's this side of Ted's argument that I think you are not responding to when you focus on questions of his cultural politics.
The problem is not with "non-academic" approaches to science. The problem is that science, particularly physics, is unified in a way that literature and history and maybe music (though I can't speak to that one too well) are not. By "unified," I mean that to understand what a given scientific or mathematical statement means involves mastery of a (nearly) universally accepted vocabulary: a derivative is a derivative in Berkeley and Heidelberg and Moscow State University.

What you do as a scientist-in-training is you learn to master that vocabulary. It doesn't matter whether that training happens in the formal context of the academy or because you love reading textbooks and decided to teach yourself general relativity. If you don't want to take the time to master the formalism and want the popular description, that's ok; but your popular description will correspond to a popular understanding. It's like reading a synopsis instead of reading the book, quite literally.


This is true in music. Once you get to high levels there are competing approaches to theory, but at the lower levels that quizbowl would never need to go past, the vocabulary and concepts are pretty fixed. The problem is that very, very few quizbowlers seem to have an understanding of these terms and concepts.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by ThisIsMyUsername » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:04 am

Cheynem wrote:I feel like the "literature" and "science" comparisons do not seem quite fair.

In terms of the literature complaint (such as the very hard foreign authors), the complaints as far as I can tell are "These questions were too hard for the field and do not reflect what the people who study literature who play quizbowl generally have read." However, I don't think anyone is saying "These questions did not reward knowledge of Munif or Rosa" or "If you study Arabic literature or South American literature, you will be completely baffled by these Munif or Rosa questions."

It seems like Jerry is saying is that these science questions that irk him actually do fail the latter criteria, in that he has knowledge of the physical principles associated with the Miller effect or flare stars, but that the questions are written on minute named things or things you might encounter on Wiki articles instead of classrooms. In this analogy, I think it would be like someone complaining that a Fitzgerald tossup was written on "Dan Cody" or a Dos Passos tossup on "Jimmy Herf" because they have names, even though they would be extremely difficult or minute things to ask about (I just picked those names randomly because I actually could remember them, there are better examples).

I don't know if this analogy was fair. In terms of what Jerry is saying about science questions, it makes sense to me, and I agree with Andrew and Ted that I think the literature at Nats was too difficult for the field (I frankly don't care about CO, I complained at the time, but I was wrong, so I apologize). I can see Andrew/Ted wanting to argue against the inclusion of Munif or Rosa--that's a legitimate argument to have--but I wanted to clarify that at least from my perspective, I don't see Jerry as being hypocritical.
Just to be clear, I entirely agree with this. That is what I meant when I said that I think Jerry is advocating a double standard, but one that is probably necessary, due to the completely different natures of the two subjects.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by theMoMA » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:24 am

I am not arguing for never writing tossups on things that Jerry likes; in fact, I think that Jerry often manages to tease out good answers that no one else would. But saying that my discipline is for whatever enthusiasts want and his is for whatever he learned in a class is a flawed argument and completely unfair to me as a player. If you choose science answers only from Wikipedia, you're going to punish people who have the most knowledge about science. If you choose lit answers that systematically ignore the standardized curriculum, you're going to punish people who have the most knowledge about literature. As I've said, the objective truth is that good science answers deviate far less from the standardized science curriculum than do good literature answers. But this doesn't mean that you should write an entire tournament without representing what people actually learn and study. The converse is also true; we can occasionally write good science tossups on areas outside the standardized science education, though far less, because people are less likely to know or care about these things.

And Bruce, my argument is not that "Milton is on a syllabus, Aleixandre is not, therefore Milton should come up more." The fact that people take classes on Milton is only incidental to why he should come up in quizbowl more often than Aleixandre. Milton is simply a more important, more well-known, more well-studied author, so asking about him has a chance to tap into knowledge worth tapping into. Does this mean that we should never ask about Aleixandre? Of course not, and that's never what I've argued. The point is that we shouldn't also systematically disfavor answers like Milton, as we often do at harder tournaments, because those are the answer lines with the richest and most worthwhile-to-test player knowledge standing behind them.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Magister Ludi » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:25 am

Cheynem wrote:
I don't know if this analogy was fair. In terms of what Jerry is saying about science questions, it makes sense to me, and I agree with Andrew and Ted that I think the literature at Nats was too difficult for the field (I frankly don't care about CO, I complained at the time, but I was wrong, so I apologize). I can see Andrew/Ted wanting to argue against the inclusion of Munif or Rosa--that's a legitimate argument to have--but I wanted to clarify that at least from my perspective, I don't see Jerry as being hypocritical.
Wold you please at least read what I'm saying before you start summarizing it. If there is one thing that Andrew and I have made repeatedly is that we are not arguing about any single answer line! How many times must one repeat this until people understand that? It was perfectly fine for Munif to come up at ACF. The issue lies in larger trends within a sub-distribution. I have argued that there should be a decent number of tossups reserved for topics that are important and that we know people will have real knowledge about.

The reason Jerry is being hypocritical is by claiming that topics he has studied in academic physics should make up almost all the questions within the sub-distribution to the point that a tossup on flare stars is illegitimate. If he has this kind of hardline stance on the academic area he studies, why can't literature players ask for a decent number of tossups on key works that they study? Notice that we are not asking for all literature questions to be decided by our academic canon, but rather saying that there is a solid a core of major authors within the literature canon whose places are just as secure as topics like "fields" are within the physics canon.

This position seems like a reasonable middle ground. Personally, I try to let what people actually read and know serve as my guide to pick topics for world literature--even if that means I have to sacrifice the occasional tossup on an out-of-print Pakistani novel that has never been translated into English. Personally, I believe a tossup on Rosa does a terrible job of rewarding knowledge of South American literature, which is a tradition I've spent more time than anyone over the last few years reading in. But if we shift the conversation towards nebulous and improvable claims about these figures importance within their own traditions we will get no where. The issue at hand is completely divorced from my personal literary taste and is simply a movement to encourage quizbowl to think why we do not give the material studied by English and literature majors even a fraction of the respect that we give academic science. I'm not saying that the two disciplines are the same, but once you hit grad English grad school the curriculum is standardized just as much as science and it is eminently reasonable to guarantee having a solid number of tossups on these canonical subjects that be balanced out with harder or stupider answers.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:50 am

Magister Ludi wrote:1) I am not saying that a tossup on Munif or any of the other examples is an illegitimate answer choice. If I were saying ""who the fuck are these people anyway and why should I have to know this" that would be problematic, but this is exactly what I am not saying.
Actually, that's exactly what you were saying, in different words, until I called you on it, at which point you decided that you weren't saying that anymore.
2) Comp lit
So I'm guessing despite its notoriously lax academic standards we can both accept Brown as a reasonable metric for other institutions of higher learning. And what do you know, what you read is going to depend largely on your area of expertise! If you're doing Portuguese language literature, why, it looks like you'd be reading... Rosa. And Eca de Quieroz. And if you're doing Spanish you might read Garcilaso de la Vega or Reinaldo Arenas or Juan Goytisolo. If we look at Princeton's guidelines, sure, we find Ibsen and Flaubert and Balzac, but we also find Ousmane Sembene and Yehuda Amichai and Vasily Grossman. This is a general program and the only requirements seem to be numerical ones, so no one is saying "you must read TS Eliot."
3) The question becomes whether we want to have a majority of our questions on topics that lie on the fringe of the canon that might reward some fabled specialist who happens be one of the few people who encounter this topic. Or we could write a good number of questions on the topics that we know has a firm place in any version of a literary canon, and more importantly, will definitely reward many players who we know are likely to have real knowledge about a book. This is not an either-or situation, but rather it is a question of how we want to shape our priorities.
This is wholly different from the question which I'm trying to address with regards to writing science questions. I've already agreed with you that on balance the set turned out to be too hard. This is completely orthogonal to the point I'm trying to make.

I have to give Jerry credit for enunciated my feelings about this issue earlier in the thread:
4) Now I'm going to draw the analogy between the complaints about obscure physics questions to the complaints about literature. You criticized questions on stuff like the Miller Effect as something that doesn't reward actual physics knowledge, but I'd argue there is some student somewhere who might study that effect (and it turns out Aaron has encountered it.) So while that question doesn't reward many players who have real physics knowledge, it could reward a few specialists; it just happens that you had never heard of it and immediately dismissed it as unimportant because you had never encountered it. (Hmm, this line of reasoning sounds eerily similar to some accusations made against people in this thread.) So should we have lots of questions on niche topics within a discipline that focus on the peripheries of the academic canon of a discipline or do we want to ensure that there are lots of tossups on topics that we know are both important and we know people will be knowledgeable about.
I thought a question was in one category and it turned out to be in another category, rendering my point about that question moot. I will gladly draw on examples from the right categories to continue my argument.
6) Finally, Andrew and I find your position hypocritical exactly because you say that all science answers should be chosen to reward people with real knowledge who study a topic academically, but don't extend that policy to literature.
Yes I do. I think you should be rewarded for reading and learning about lots of books in lots of different areas, and that questions should be written to reward that.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:53 am

Matt Weiner wrote:For what it's worth, I find it incredibly amusing to claim that anyone is answering a tossup on Guimares Rosa from real and/or university-sourced knowledge, considering that his magnum opus has been out of print in English for going on fifty years. Is Jerry's theory that a book which runs $300 used and has precisely 45 total copies in North American university libraries, as per Worldcat, is somehow more rewarding of academic knowledge than flare stars? Or perhaps that becoming fluent enough in Brazilian Portuguese to read a notoriously complex novel, often compared to Ulysses, is something one or more members of the 2011 Nationals field have done? If so I will join the chorus of disagreement.
I think if someone has a reasonable interest in Latin American literature one can acquire a fair amount of knowledge about Rosa without necessarily reading all of his works. I think that kind of interest is a good thing to reward.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Aug 02, 2011 11:59 am

ThisIsMyUsername wrote:This is simply not true. The majority of clues for music questions are written in complete layman's terms. It takes no technical understanding of music to recognize that a clarinet is playing, or to know that a movement of a piece is marked allegro, which means quickly/brightly. These are the kinds of facts one finds in liner notes for CD's and programs for concerts, which are written specifically for non-musicians.
Really, you don't think "allegro" is a technical term? Or that "clarinet playing in 7/8 time" (or whatever) is a technical description? To you it's not! But to me, other than the fact that I know that a clarinet is a thing you blow into, this means absolutely nothing. I have no idea what to make of any of this information or how to conceptualize an "allegro" movement in any meaningful way. It's as if I were telling you that "momentum" is not a technical term because people have an intuitive understanding of momentum. The fact that you've internalized those terms so completely that they don't even strike you as carrying specialized information is exactly why you're such a good music player.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Cheynem » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:03 pm

Sorry, Ted. I did not represent you and Andrew's viewpoint regarding Munif/etc. very well which was sloppy on my part. You were very clearly saying it was okay for those singular answer lines.

I still don't see Jerry as being hypocritical, but it looks like he's going to explain it himself, so I'll pull out of this discussion as I know little about science or literature.
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:33 pm

grapesmoker wrote:So I'm guessing despite its notoriously lax academic standards
Hey!

I think a good analogy to draw in this thread is the issue of specialization. As far as I understand it, what Ted's saying is that English majors, all of whom learn some shared set of works with a good deal of variability, get the same respect as science majors, who also learn a shared set of concepts but with a good degree less variability. I largely agree with the argument that Ted's putting forth, but there are some misconceptions being thrown around this thread.

First, I don't think what scientists learn is nearly as uniform as Jerry is making it out to be, at least relative to literature; it largely dependent on what field and/or type of schooling you're involved in. In graduate school, the "shared canon" of things that all biology-related PhDs learn becomes vanishingly small as people specialize and specialize further. My immunology background, for example, is largely dwarfed by my classmates who specialize in T-cell activation or whatever. But, as someone who knows as much immunology as the average guy, I can at least say that I've HEARD of T-cells and understand to some extent what they do, and that knowledge is largely rewarded in quizbowl.

I think writing a question on Cities of Salt or Rosa is similar to writing a question on CTLA-4 (which is something T-cell related that I'm told is important. Don't ask me further). Someone who has an undergraduate education in biology will have either never heard of it or will have heard of in passing, someone who specializes in immunology will most probably have heard of it, and someone who studies T-cell activation will absolutely know it. With a tossup like Cities of Salt, I'm under the impression that someone who has an undergraduate background in literature probably hasn't heard of it, but that someone that specializes in Middle Eastern literature or Middle Eastern studies will most probably have heard of it. Whereas writing a tossup on Flaubert is like writing a tossup on T cells - which can be written so that people specializing in immunology do better than people specializing in biology, and biologists do better than historians that aren't Chris Ray. And I'd much rather the bulk of a tournament that I play have tossups on T-cells, rather than tossups on crazy specific T-cell related things that only 2 people in the field know. There's way too much stuff in the shared undergraduate canon that can and should be asked about without resorting to these kinds of tossups, and I think what Ted, Andrew, and John are saying is there's plenty of things like that in the literature canon too.


Secondly, I think this is utterly dangerous:
grapesmoker wrote:Yes I do. I think you should be rewarded for reading and learning about lots of books in lots of different areas, and that questions should be written to reward that.
Where's the filter? What's to stop me from going to the classics section of Barnes and Noble, reading something completely at random, and writing a tossup on it? I think it makes more sense to reward people for reading and learning things that are actually important in the field that the questions are being asked in.

Finally, I don't want to invoke rule XXXX of the boards or whatever, but is there a better way to hash this out than Jerry and Ted just fighting each other after every tournament not written by Evan Adams?
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:35 pm

Also, why the hell is this set not posted?!
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Re: Split topic on CO science

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Aug 02, 2011 12:50 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote: Where's the filter? What's to stop me from going to the classics section of Barnes and Noble, reading something completely at random, and writing a tossup on it? I think it makes more sense to reward people for reading and learning things that are actually important in the field that the questions are being asked in.
Looks like you went to a comic book store and grabbed the issue of Batman where he fights Scarecrow, because this is a major straw man argument.

There are plenty of ways to figure out "what people know/are likely to know" without resorting to looking at what is done in the academy. And I think many of them are better.

I need to run but I'll post in more detail on this later.
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