I'll try to summarize my points in a concise way in response to Andrew's points. First, a clarification:
Birdofredum Sawin wrote:I want to reiterate a point I made in the Announcements forum, for fear that it may have gotten lost in the shuffle over there. One of the charms of this debate flaring up now is that it coincides with Andrew Hart's law tournament, which happens to be a perfect instantiation of the kind of quizbowl Jerry claims to want. Jerry's position, as I understand it, goes something like this: "(1) All students of science learn more or less the same core things in their standard curricula. (2) Quizbowl should principally ask about those core things that science students learn in their standard curricula, because asking about other things is unfair." (To be honest, I'm actually not entirely clear on the normative aspect of Jerry's argument--i.e., I don't know, and have never known, exactly why he thinks it is improper for quizbowl to ask about things that don't come up in the standard science curricula. I'm not sure that Jerry has ever done a great job of explaining this normative argument, which is perhaps why people like Ted are now accusing him of hypocrisy: failing to see any good argument for the normative position here, they assume that Jerry is "really" motivated only by a desire to maintain his edge in this category. Note that I am not myself accusing Jerry of hypocrisy; I'm just observing that I don't grasp his normative point.)
The normative aspect that I'm pushing is that expertise in a field should be conducive to answering questions from that field. I think this is a non-controversial point, and one that I think both Ted and Andrew Hart accept. The way many science questions are written now, especially at high difficulty levels, simply doesn't do that; they are either written on topics that are incredibly fringe (and I think my comparison above to what "flare stars" represent in the overall scheme of physics knowledge is pretty accurate) or they are written in such a way that doesn't help someone with expertise answer the question. A good example of the latter is the Auger effect question from round 3; I know how the Auger effect works and have derived it in class, but all my knowledge is useless against someone who has read the Wikipedia article and knows that Coster-Kronig means it's time to buzz. The reason it's feasible to do something like this within physics as long as people stick to the "named thing must be written on" philosophy is because the set of such named things is relatively small in the discipline. Thus, it's pretty easy to memorize associated words and phrases in a way that's totally impractical in other disciplines.
The accusation of hypocrisy appears to come from Ted's argument that I'm refusing to apply the same standards of expertise to e.g. the study of literature. More specifically, Ted's argument is that I myself have written questions that were allegedly so hard that they eliminated any advantage he might derive from his expertise in literature. I maintain that this is not so for the reason that I didn't choose figures that were peripheral or particularly obscure; I picked writers and books that were fairly prominent examples of their respective traditions. And over the course of the tournament, many of the top teams did answer those questions; they were generally answered by people who also read a lot of books, just like Ted does. My claim is that, empirically, the two situations are just not analogous and that one could quite easily learn about someone like Aleixandre or The White Tiger
by being interested in Spanish literature generally and paying attention to literary happenings, whereas people do not learn second-order analogues of eponymous effects because they are interested in physics.
Anyway, emerging from that digression, my point here is as follows: Jerry has always offered this argument in terms of science questions (which is perhaps why he gets accused of hypocrisy, or at least of partiality, so often). But it is completely generalizable, as some of Jerry's critics have observed. That is: The position can be stated "(1) All students of [x] learn more or less the same core things in their standard curricula. (2) Quizbowl should principally ask about those core things that [x] students learn in their standard curricula," where "x" can be "history" or "literature" or what you please. (Obviously there are differences between how "standard" the "standard curricula" are in different fields, but I don't see those differences as posing a radical objection to this argument.) The question for Jerry then becomes: Why shouldn't your position be applied equally to every field? (This is essentially a "what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander" argument.)
I think it's perfectly fine to apply that to every field, and why not? The one constraint I would put on this is that you have to pick answers that make good questions. That's why "the tone of Emily Dickinson's poems" is a bad answer, but there's nothing bad about writing a question that draws on criticism clues about the tone of the poems. If you want to write a tossup on "alexandrines," go nuts. If you're writing a history question, draw on some famous historiography. I guess the other restriction would be something like "people should plausibly be able to get those questions by the end," but I'm happy with putting that restriction on science questions as well, and in fact, this would preclude a fair number of the problematic questions I've seen over the years.
This brings me back to my observation about Andrew Hart's law tournament, which (as I have noted) happens to be an ideal instance of Jerry's position. As it happens, all students of law do learn more or less the same core things in the standard 1L curriculum. And, as it happens, Andrew Hart's tournament principally asks about those core things (in fact, it almost exclusively asks about them). I therefore suggest that, rather than continuing this debate, anyone who leans toward Jerry's position should take a look at Andrew Hart's law questions and ask themselves: Is this what I think quizbowl should look like? If not, is it possible to offer a principled explanation of why the non-science parts of the game shouldn't look like Andrew Hart's law questions, but the science parts of the game should? (Note, again, that this is not meant as criticism of the law tournament, which I enjoyed as a novelty one-subject vanity tournament; my point about it is that, if we take Jerry's views seriously, all of quizbowl ought to aspire to the condition of Andrew Hart's law tournament.)
I'm not sure it would be possible to do this; as far as I can tell the reason Andrew's tournament sounds the way it does is because of the nature of the subject material. I wouldn't want to play a whole tournament of law bowl (and didn't) but I don't see either history or literature or indeed any other discipline turning into that.
Coda: I want to reinforce the original point that I've been trying to make all along. The way many science questions are written right now is analogous to writing tossups on novels that are nothing but lists of characters, or tossups on writers that are nothing but lists of novels, with the additional complication that there are maybe 100 answers total (at best) to choose from. I would like to see questions that are written in such a way as to reward understanding and knowledge of the material, which would be roughly analogous to knowing the plot of a novel rather than memorizing characters. Moreover, we solve the problem of limited answer space by expanding into commonly used but also gettable technical terms, which should allow both scientists and nonscientists to answer the questions, the former before the latter.