Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

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Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by kayli » Wed Mar 13, 2013 10:36 pm

It seems that over the past couple of tournaments, we've seen the appearance of some changes in the quizbowl distribution especially in the science category. I was wondering about how we should approach the discussion of what the distribution should be and how to approach the possibility of change. Overall, I am curious about how we should judge whether something is over or underrepresented in the distribution.

Specific questions I thought would be interesting to address are: Should chemistry be reduced to a minor science? Should science history play a larger role? How should we think about other categories which might be underrepresented (such as social science or philosophy)? Are certain categories overrepresented (do we really need 4/4 literature and 4/4 history every packet for instance)? What should the quizbowl distribution do?

This is, of course, overthinking a lot about quizbowl, and I'm willing to accept that it's just a game and that you play to the rules of the game. However, I think it's worth thinking about, and I'd be curious if people thought that the distribution should set out to conform proportionally to what is studied academically or if we should just stick with what we have because that's the way it's always been.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:17 am

I'm certainly more in favor of the distribution conforming more to what people actually study in academia. For this reason, I feel math/computer science and especially social science are underrepresented in the distribution. Economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology and various forms of geography and ethnic studies are all fairly common majors and have significant amounts of literature associated with them, but they are all stuck in the 1/1 "Social Science" distribution. Geography is 1/1 in the ACF distribution, but in my opinion it is poorly implemented, relying excessively on relatively unimportant knowledge of landmarks and land formations (which are more interesting as earth science topics) and insufficiently on details about people and, to a lesser extent, animals.

I also like the idea of a "Modern World" subdistribution, as advocated by Bruce Arthur and executed at WIT. I would imagine this would primarily compose questions in the expanded Social Science distribution, but it could incorporate aspects of history and other categories as well.

I would probably decrease the "RMP" distribution (I'm not sure whether we should group philosophy with religion and mythology, though I do think philosophy is over-represented) and maybe the Fine Arts distribution as well. I'd like to see the science distribution in a packet comprise 9 or 10 questions, but this would encompass science history and the implementation of some questions formerly classified as "geography" as earth science or ecology instead.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Muriel Axon » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:13 am

Before we go around mucking things up, does anyone know why/how the distribution was chosen as it was?

I have no ambitions to change the distribution but I agree with Will that (I think) social science is underrepresented. But I also don't see that a lot of well-written and interesting social science questions are being written, so I'm not necessarily in favor of expanding the SS distribution.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:41 am

I have long been a critic of the idea that the quizbowl distribution should (or does) track what is studied in the academy or what is taught in classes. For one, I don't think that what people study/learn in class is as homogenous as some here like to think. There is a lot of variation between institutions, between departments, and between individuals. Second, the modern academy is a Sodom and Gomorrah of specialization, and quizbowl clearly rewards a broad knowledge base. No, what quizbowl should (and empirically does) reward is intellectual curiousity. Sure, intellectually curious people attend classes and pay attention, but they do a lot more: they read books, they watch documentaries, they attend performances, etc. This is what lets them buzz with authority on subjects outside of their major.

Show me a great quizbowl player, and I'll show you somebody who has learned far more in their spare time than they've ever learned in class.

Does the current mACF distribution perfectly track what intellectually curious people learn about? No, but it probably comes close, and my suspicion is that any modified distribution can at best be just as wrong, just with a different bias. I'm very wary of changing the distribution based on our sense of what people like/don't like: this might reflect just a brief passing fad, and with the growing base of quizbowl players it's harder than ever to figure out what people like. I'm far more sympathetic to efforts to change the distribution based on a certain distribution resulting in bad questions for some structural reason.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Muriel Axon » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:49 am

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:I have long been a critic of the idea that the quizbowl distribution should (or does) track what is studied in the academy or what is taught in classes.
Since I go to Michigan State, can we have a 1/1 packaging and turfgrass management distribution? Thanks guys.

(EDIT: This is my way of agreeing with the quoted statement, in case that wasn't clear.)
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 12:25 pm

I'm sympathetic to the view that quizbowl should have more Social Science since It's Important, lots of people study it, and it's genuinely interesting. But I'm not adopting that agenda yet because I think a lot more work needs to be done coming up with good, playable social science questions on important topics. At present there are too many vague questions with old chestnuts for clues, and I can't in good conscience endorse a re-setting of the distribution that effectively replaces good questions with bad ones. Hopefully the predominance of people studying social science will enlarge the scope for such questions.

As for science history, I'll repeat what I said in the thread discussing that: it's an important subject, but shouldn't necessarily be replacing science as such. If people think there's too much chemistry in quizbowl (a view with which I sympathize), I'd advise making it a minor science to be replaced with either math as a major science or nothing (so just have more minor science questions).

I think the Modern World thing has largely worked out, certainly as far as can be expected for a "new" subject, so I hope more of that will be forthcoming.

My problem with the "quizbowl is a hobby for the curious, not a seminar" view articulated by Bruce is that it's supremely important to Get Shit Right, and that's what academia is all about even if it's both specialized and factionalized. As Bruce writes, quizbowl should and does reward the cross-disciplinarily curious, but that means people who actually learn about different disciplines and hence requires engagement with academic work. The more curious you are, the more you engage and the more you know, and quiz questions should reward engagement, not superficiality or avoiding the cutting edge on some strange principle that academia has been corrupted by specialization so that new stuff is just worthless.

EDIT: If anything I've written implies an enlargement of some area of the distribution at the expense of another, it should come from myth.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Mar 14, 2013 1:16 pm

I'm not sure what Marshall means by "academic work" (i.e., do history books written for a mass market, like Shelby Foote or Robert Caro, count) but yes, if you're curious about it you do eventually seek out academic works by even the most narrow definition. One issue, though, is that some important things are not really being discussed in the academy right now, because they were resolved a long time ago. There are all sorts of bonuses at quizbowl tournaments about what language family a given language falls into, but for many languages this has been settled for over a century and nobody publishes about where they fit in anymore.

EDIT: To perfectly clear, my position is "things that are studied or taught in school should be tested by quizbowl, but are not the only things that should be tested by quizbowl"
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Mar 14, 2013 1:25 pm

The short answer to "why the distribution is what it is" is basically "historical accident."
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 1:31 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:One issue, though, is that some important things are not really being discussed in the academy right now, because they were resolved a long time ago. There are all sorts of bonuses at quizbowl tournaments about what language family a given language falls into, but for many languages this has been settled for over a century and nobody publishes about where they fit in anymore.
In that case figure out some more interesting linguistic questions. More seriously, the problem in social science isn't usually that the old stuff is uncontroversially right and thus ignored, but rather that it's long-discredited yet still very much a part of quizbowl social science. And learning about that pretty much requires engagement with the discipline, even if by way of more popular writing.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Thu Mar 14, 2013 1:55 pm

I'll chime in to merely note that I'm glad this discussion has started off in such good faith about what's best for the game, rather than the individual interests of whoever's talking. I obviously can't tell people how to post, but I think this is a much more worthwhile exercise when people put themselves behind a veil of ignorance in terms of what academic subjects any player, not just themselves, might know, be good at, or write about well. Certainly, I'll look askance at reasoning along the lines of "I know math therefore MORE MATH," etc.

On the curricularness point: It seems obviously true to me that topics in quizbowl cannot be compartmentalized into bins labeled "CURRICULAR" and "NOT CURRICULAR". Whenever this point comes up, it disappoints me. The very issue of curricularity on either end is not the correct way to think about topics' importance. There are many different ways that someone can learn about an important academic topic, and the "reflect the curriculum" issue always assumes that people only learn about important quizbowl topics from the class which is most similar in title to the topic's place in the quizbowl distribution. There are many times when this is not the case. A person might stumble across Haruki Murakami for the first time on a syllabus for literature class; insofar as that's true, he might be a part of someone's curriculum somewhere. But they could also just pick him up from a bookstore because the New York Times book reviews were good, or because they value being well-read despite studying a topic completely different from literature in their academic life. It's also true that there are many different curricula which get to the same famous material in different ways. Different individual people might be exposed to Francisco de Goya for the first time in AP Art History, should their high school have been privileged enough to offer it, or in a Spanish textbook with segments on Spanish art, or in a European history class which remains conscious of the artistic reactions to war/other historical stuff, or by wandering around an art gallery on a field trip / flipping through an art book on a table in some hostel somewhere. For this reason, I don't think we should be hamstrung by whether important topics are taught in today's universities in the class in the spring 2013 term that most corresponds most to their quizbowl subject. And, in fact, the intersection of many different possible venues for learning the same material should be a strong argument that something is important enough to ask about.

On the note of "I know x therefore MORE X," I'll follow Marshall up by sharing my thoughts about mythology, which are conflicted. Mythology is obviously not an academic field at most places, even when there is a "Classical Mythologies" class offered or something of that nature. But familiarity with myths is essential to gain a better understanding in many other fields of study (think of all the Greco-Roman myth references in Shakespeare, or the influences of Norse myth on Wagner and German history more broadly, or the ways in which Egyptian religious beliefs affected society's attitudes towards the pharaohs and towards cats, or all the (Neo)classical art ever, or reading anything written by an actual Greek or Roman, for some examples). Myth is also a thing that many kids below quizbowling age love and retain decent memory of as they grow older. So I don't want to get rid of it entirely. At the same time, I'll readily admit that quizbowl mythology questions, particularly high-difficulty questions in non-Greco-Roman myth systems, often reward little more than surfing Myth Encyclopedia for the genealogies of insignificant people/gods, or often overinflate unimporant characters/events referenced in a single line of surviving skaldic poetry to recurring clues or full tossups. To the extent that Nobody Learns about which Egyptian god was conflated with which other Egyptian god, or what the importance of the Aztec jade turkey might be, outside the confines of our game, it might be worth thinking about cutting back on mythology just a bit at the college level. If not, it's worth at least asking, each time you write a myth question/clue, "Why might someone outside quizbowl find this piece of information important to their pursuit of knowledge about something in the world?" It would make my personal interests sad to head to a world of .5/.5 myth, because I've spent a lot of time learning myths For Points, but we need to start introspecting more about whether we really need full tossups on Khepri the scarab (or whether we really encourage people to learn full tossups' worth of information on Khepri the scarab).
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by gyre and gimble » Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:00 pm

RyuAqua wrote:To the extent that Nobody Learns about which Egyptian god was conflated with which other Egyptian god, or what the importance of the Aztec jade turkey might be, outside the confines of our game, it might be worth thinking about cutting back on mythology just a bit at the college level. If not, it's worth at least asking, each time you write a myth question/clue, "Why might someone outside quizbowl find this piece of information important to their pursuit of knowledge about something in the world?" It would make my personal interests sad to head to a world of .5/.5 myth, because I've spent a lot of time learning myths For Points, but we need to start introspecting more about whether we really need full tossups on Khepri the scarab (or whether we really encourage people to learn full tossups' worth of information on Khepri the scarab).
As someone who's spent a lot of time learning myth from major primary sources, I agree that there are problems with the way myth questions are asked, but none of this is a reason to reduce the myth distribution. These are just reasons to reform the myth distribution toward focusing on major sources whose stories and characters have proved to be highly influential in world culture over time. For example, I wholeheartedly agree that Khepri should not be a tossup on his own, but that doesn't reflect the need to replace Khepri with a psychology question. It just means there probably should have been a question on Lugh or Turnus or something that does merit a tossup. Khepri came up because someone happened to pick a god no one is interested in (and no one wants to learn about because it's really hard to figure out what you need to know); he didn't come up because someone decided, "There needs to be more Khepri in quizbowl." The side tournament Ike wrote last summer aimed at avoiding this sort of thing, and I found the clues and answerlines to be much more meaningful and important.
At the same time, I'll readily admit that quizbowl mythology questions, particularly high-difficulty questions in non-Greco-Roman myth systems, often reward little more than surfing Myth Encyclopedia for the genealogies of insignificant people/gods, or often overinflate unimporant characters/events referenced in a single line of surviving skaldic poetry to recurring clues or full tossups.
I'd say that nowadays genealogy clues show up almost entirely in Greco-Roman myth questions, and even then, they're contextualized in real stories as opposed to being presented as lazy grandfather-grandson matching. For example, maybe a tossup on Epimetheus might mention Orestheus. It's not all that notable that Orestheus was the grandson of Epimetheus. But if a question read, "one of his grandsons founded Ozolian Locris and had a dog who birthed a grape plant; that man was Orestheus," then this isn't all that bad because people who recognize the story will be able to identify the time-frame as immediately post-flood, which leads you to Pyrrha, and then Epimetheus. A bad clue, on the other hand, would be "this figure's grandson learned the music of Apollo and married Rhoeo," since the story of Zarex has really nothing to do with Chiron, his grandfather. Someone who wants to write about Zarex would be much better off tossing up "music" or "Apollo."

The point is, this problem is rarely an actual issue, because there might be like one bad clue in a tossup. I haven't noticed too many genealogy clues in other myth systems, though I usually tune out for the first half of Egyptian, Hindu, and Mesopotamian myth. I'd also say that this actually happens more often in the leadins of lower-difficulty questions because of poor editing or question-writing.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:40 pm

Regarding the question of mythology, I'm in favor of decreasing its distribution for some of the reasons already mentioned. Much of quizbowl mythology is simply knowledge of the actions of fictional characters, only distinguished from literature by the fact that they are associated with the religious beliefs of particular ethnicities/peoples. If the myth distribution were to be reduced, I wouldn't mind a somewhat expanded role for myth and legend in the history and literature distributions. I'd also imagine that in a distribution with an expanded role for social science, questions on human geography and ethnic studies/anthropology of specific cultures would incorporate a decent amount of mythology.The same goes for decreasing the "pure" religion distribution - for one, I find that a lot of questions on biblical characters and books feel a lot more like literature questions than religion, and religion is an important topic in social science as well.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Auroni » Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:45 pm

But I also don't see that a lot of well-written and interesting social science questions are being written, so I'm not necessarily in favor of expanding the SS distribution.
This, I think, is a failing of the circuit as a whole, since there are tons of accessible topics in the various social sciences that never get asked. I'm not sure if we need to "expand" the SS distribution, but we can certainly write it better than just "hard work by hard thinker" filtering down to regular difficulty.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:47 pm

Tokyo Sex Whale wrote:
But I also don't see that a lot of well-written and interesting social science questions are being written, so I'm not necessarily in favor of expanding the SS distribution.
This, I think, is a failing of the circuit as a whole, since there are tons of accessible topics in the various social sciences that never get asked. I'm not sure if we need to "expand" the SS distribution, but we can certainly write it better than just "hard work by hard thinker" filtering down to regular difficulty.
If it wasn't clear before, I agree with this wholeheartedly. I've tried to promote this agenda in my writing, not always successfully, and I would recommend others to bear it in mind when they write SS, even if execution isn't perfect it's better than the same old things trotted out again and again.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Thu Mar 14, 2013 4:58 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote: If it wasn't clear before, I agree with this wholeheartedly. I've tried to promote this agenda in my writing, not always successfully, and I would recommend others to bear it in mind when they write SS, even if execution isn't perfect it's better than the same old things trotted out again and again.
On the issue of social science questions repeatedly using stock clues about the same things, I have a suspicion that this may be due to the fact that social science is not well represented in the distribution. Social science hasn't ever needed to "branch out" and encompass new topics, nor have there been many folks pushing such an agenda (you being an exception) because in my experience there is a paucity of players who specialize in social science. This is because the rewards are rather poor - social science encompasses multiple disciplines, yet it shows up very little in the distribution - biology, chemistry, physics, music and visual arts have the same quota in the distribution, but these subjects have specialty players because they only comprise one area of academic study. If it became viable for players to be primarily social science specialists, I foresee that such specialists would care about the quality of social science questions and push for/write better questions as a result.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by magin » Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:21 pm

Hey,

Well-written social science questions that aren't on dusty tomes from the Devonian period are pretty awesome. The problem is, they're a real pain in the ass to write (especially compared to, say, literature, history, or myth) and a lot of people don't seem to like playing them for one reason or another. Using the first half of tossups and the middle/hard parts of bonuses on current important research, while keeping easy parts/answers gettable, is probably better than spending whole questions reminding people of their ignorance about modern social science, but even that requires knowing whether the clues you're using are actually about important things.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by bradleykirksey » Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:42 pm

magin wrote:Hey,

Well-written social science questions that aren't on dusty tomes from the Devonian period are pretty awesome. The problem is, they're a real pain in the ass to write (especially compared to, say, literature, history, or myth) and a lot of people don't seem to like playing them for one reason or another. Using the first half of tossups and the middle/hard parts of bonuses on current important research, while keeping easy parts/answers gettable, is probably better than spending whole questions reminding people of their ignorance about modern social science, but even that requires knowing whether the clues you're using are actually about important things.
If I can echo this, any tossup that begins "One of this man's experiments" will be Stanley Milgram. Can we retire Milgram, the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, and 100 years of Solitude?
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:47 pm

bradleykirksey wrote:If I can echo this, any tossup that begins "One of this man's experiments" will be Stanley Milgram.
Even my limited grasp of social science tells me that's not true.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:49 pm

bradleykirksey wrote:
magin wrote:Hey,

Well-written social science questions that aren't on dusty tomes from the Devonian period are pretty awesome. The problem is, they're a real pain in the ass to write (especially compared to, say, literature, history, or myth) and a lot of people don't seem to like playing them for one reason or another. Using the first half of tossups and the middle/hard parts of bonuses on current important research, while keeping easy parts/answers gettable, is probably better than spending whole questions reminding people of their ignorance about modern social science, but even that requires knowing whether the clues you're using are actually about important things.
If I can echo this, any tossup that begins "One of this man's experiments" will be Stanley Milgram. Can we retire Milgram, the Pre-Raphealite Brotherhood, and 100 years of Solitude?
ACF Fall 2012 wrote:12. In one of this man’s experiments, subjects are asked which of two differently-spaced rows of the same number of pennies contains more coins. This thinker argued that his subjects used “schemata” to interpret the world, and, when faced with new information, had the dual options of “assimilation” and “accommodation.” This developer of “genetic epistemology” described the beginning of egocentrism and the development of object permanence in outlining a theory that includes formal operational and sensorimotor stages. For 10 points, name this Swiss psychologist, who outlined a four-stage model of development.
ANSWER: Jean Piaget
Terrapin 2011 wrote:5. In one of this man's experiments, a subject was asked to order ten sticks to form a staircase while in another subjects placed ten blue flowers in ten vases and removing them before replacing them with ten pink flowers. This man postulated that people confronted with stimuli can undergo assimilation or accommodation, part of his theory of genetic epistemology. This thinker conducted one experiment in which (*) liquid was poured from a short wide glass into a tall thin glass, illustrating “conservation.” He called cognitive systems which aid in organization and understanding “schema,” and coined the terms “concrete operational,” “formal operational,” and “sensorimotor.” For 10 points, name this Swiss developmental psychologist who developed a four stage model of cognitive development.
ANSWER: Jean Piaget
Illinois Open 2008 (not at the start, but no one is buzzing before that anyways) wrote: 5. This man published the results of a technique he developed in Reference Scale and Placement of Items with the Own Categories Technique , and he also wrote a book in which he claimed that societal mores were extremely mutable in Norm Change over Subject Generations as a Function of Arbitrariness of Prescribed Norms. Some of this man’s early texts include The Psychology of Social Norms and The Psychology of Ego-Involvements. One of this man’s experiments validated a theory that stated that inner group conflict, negative prejudices, and stereotypes result from actual competition between groups for desired resources. That experiment required cooperation to watch Treasure Island, and posed The Eagles and The Rattlers against each other and observed their destructive behavior. For ten points, identify this psychologist, who came up with Rational Conflict Theory and conducted the Robber’s Cave Experiment, a Turk.
ANSWER: Muzafer Sherif
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:51 pm

The question is: is mythology inherently difficult to write well (we seem to be nearing a consensus that for Social Science this is the case), or are bad and easily correctable habits simply widespread?

I think there are a number of writers, either active today or active in the recent past, who have consistently written good religion and mythology questions that don't have the flaws being complained about in this thread.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:00 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:The question is: is mythology inherently difficult to write well (we seem to be nearing a consensus that for Social Science this is the case), or are bad and easily correctable habits simply widespread?

I think there are a number of writers, either active today or active in the recent past, who have consistently written good religion and mythology questions that don't have the flaws being complained about in this thread.
I don't think it's particularly hard to write good myth. Just use notable, uniquely-identifying clues about stories people are likely to know or hear of (and cite your source, as Ike did often in ANFORTAS, when there are conflicting versions of the same story and you pick only one). If you're writing on a myth topic and discover that there are no stories about that topic which anyone is likely to have familiarity with for any reason (e.g. if you'd have to be an Egyptologist or Aztecologist (Nahuologist?) to know more than a brief description about the scarab or turkey in question), that discovery should be a warning to pick a different answer.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:25 pm

Is there some particular reason we're debating the distribution again? Is there something wrong with what we've got now, or what?
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:26 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Is there some particular reason we're debating the distribution again? Is there something wrong with what we've got now, or what?
Well it seems there's some resistance to it at the edges. So yes.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Mar 14, 2013 6:56 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:Is there some particular reason we're debating the distribution again? Is there something wrong with what we've got now, or what?
Well it seems there's some resistance to it at the edges. So yes.
Define "edges."

I'm old enough to remember multiple iterations of this, most of which strike me as pointless shit-stirring. Various people propose various things that either are unworkable ("blow up the social science canon!") or that no one really wants ("make chemistry a minor science!"), the discussion dies down, and we revisit it again two years later because no one's learned their lesson the last time. I haven't seen any actual argument in this thread that I would elevate above "I have a vague sense of unease about something but am unable to articulate just what that is, exactly." I don't see why we need to kill the already pretty small 1/1 myth distribution, instead of, you know, not writing questions on the 6th most famous of the Epigoni or that one Norse tchotchke mentioned exactly one time in one verse of the Vafthrudnirsmal. Nor do I really understand why 1/1 philosophy counts as "overrepresented" when in fact you could make the argument that philosophy should have a large role (I'm not making that argument, but I could).

The distribution we have today seems to me to strike a pretty decent balance between the various components of "the canon." I don't oppose innovation in general, but I really don't quite see what the problem is. I'd be open to having more social science in general, for example, if there were some evidence that people could write lots of good, playable social science questions, but I haven't seen anything to support that. I'm a big fan of the "other academic" category (which maybe could be merged with social science and incorporates general intellectual content that doesn't fall neatly into any particular niche) but my sense is that it only really works well in harder tournaments; not a good idea for Regionals, say.

In a continuing demonstration of the old adage that wonders never cease, I find myself in deep agreement with Bruce; indeed, that sounds like an argument I could have made (and have, in fact, made). I depart somewhat from his claims about uniformity when it comes to science (undergrad math and physics majors are more or less identical the wide world over), but for a lot of stuff, that holds true. I'm no Jonathan Magin when it comes to social science, but neither was I a slouch on those questions in my playing days. That wasn't because I was a social scientist myself, but rather because I just read a lot of different stuff and picked it up as I went along.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:05 pm

The specific issues are these:

1. There's too much chemistry. VCU Closed and WIT basically eliminated a science question every round with science history because no one likes writing or playing chem questions, and the reaction was basically favorable.

2. There's not enough current events, defined broadly as things that intelligent, well-read people think about on a daily basis. Hence the "modern world" distribution.

3. There's not enough math, an idea that's been discussed elsewhere.

4. There's not enough/not sufficiently interesting or playable social science.

5. Myth is dumb (admittedly my lonely crusade).

Tournaments are experimenting around the edges with reducing chemistry, increasing current events, adding science history, etc, which have been the subject of discussions on here. This thread continues and expands those discussions, possibly leading to a formal modification of the received distribution. We're not talking about a wholesale abandonment of everything, but it's perfectly appropriate to have the conversation and, possibly, to do something about it.

EDIT: about myth, let me say that there's obviously an arms race related to a relatively high representation. The reason some Norse tchotchke is getting tossed up is that among the best myth players there's an endless search for hard answer lines. If we really just eliminated the ephemera, we'd have more buzzer races. I can't prove that we're up against some content bound in myth and that it's far from true for social science, but I think the empirical record supports the idea.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:28 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:1. There's too much chemistry. VCU Closed and WIT basically eliminated a science question every round with science history because no one likes writing or playing chem questions, and the reaction was basically favorable.
You won't find a bigger chem-hater than myself, but my sense of the VCU Closed discussion was that a lot of science people were unhappy with a history question replacing a science one. In any case, the broader issue of chemistry for a long time has been that people have often just rolled biology into chemistry, in effect generating two biochem and chem questions per round. The solution I would propose to this is to not do that, and only have biochem in the chem distribution.
2. There's not enough current events, defined broadly as things that intelligent, well-read people think about on a daily basis. Hence the "modern world" distribution.
The problem with current events is that a) a lot of it is ephemera, and sorting the important stuff from the ephemera is hard, and b) the stuff that has been sorted can properly live in the history distribution. I would definitely support a 1/1 "stuff that happened within the last 10 years" or something like that for history; I think questions whose basis is "did you read a specific NYT article last week" are going to suck ass (not to say you can't take information from those articles).
3. There's not enough math, an idea that's been discussed elsewhere.
There's an assload of math. Anyway, where would it go? You could conceivably split up physics, or carve a piece out of the chem/biochem behemoth, I guess. It seems to make more sense to say that math should be about half of the "other science" distribution.
4. There's not enough/not sufficiently interesting or playable social science.
It's not so much that it's not there, it's that people aren't used to it and don't know how to write those questions well. Let's focus on weaning people off retreads of Talcott Parsons questions before we go expanding the distributional share.
5. Myth is dumb (admittedly my lonely crusade).
Your lonely crusade is dumb.
EDIT: about myth, let me say that there's obviously an arms race related to a relatively high representation. The reason some Norse tchotchke is getting tossed up is that among the best myth players there's an endless search for hard answer lines. If we really just eliminated the ephemera, we'd have more buzzer races. I can't prove that we're up against some content bound in myth and that it's far from true for social science, but I think the empirical record supports the idea.
This isn't anything different from what happened in literature. People were not imaginative enough to write something different from what had been written before, so they went out and mined the same authors for more info. You don't need to do this with myth any more than with literature, you just need to learn how to write questions properly.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:36 pm

Here's my proposal:

I. Make math a major science and chem a minor science.

II. Create 1/1 Modern World, which embraces human geography. I think the editors of WIT did a decent job avoiding "did you read the New York Times last week" type questions, so it can be done. Obviously like any subject it can also be done poorly.

III. Write better SS questions, including science history if that generates good ideas.

and in future: If SS questions do get better, expand that distribution at the expense of myth.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Sam » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:36 pm

Most complaints about the structure of the distribution seem to really be complaints about lazy question writing, and changing the former won't fix the latter. I like that VCU Closed and WIT both tried out distributions slightly different from ACF (as many other regular season tournaments have in the past) because it brings in some variety, some new and interesting ideas, but it's not as if VCU Closed was a good tournament because the editors got rid of that fun-killing chemistry.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:42 pm

I, for one, would benefit enormously from the relegation of chemistry to a minor science and the promotion of math to a major one.

edit: well, at opens anyway.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:45 pm

grapesmoker wrote:I, for one, would benefit enormously from the relegation of chemistry to a minor science and the promotion of math to a major one.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:01 pm

Bruce's post above is dead on. I'll go a step further. People need to come to grips with the fact that quizbowl does not test what most intellectually curious people actually learn in an academic setting - if you want that, let's all just go write some essays on the causes of the Russian revolution.

Anyone who has done a lot of quizbowl writing knows that the process of devising quizbowl questions is, above all, a practical process. We can delve into all the theories we want, but you actually have to write the questions - and they have to contain viable middle clues, lead-ins, and giveaways.

The initial reason for the canon's development may have been "historical accident" - but over time, we have made changes based upon our collective experience about what kinds of questions work well and what kinds don't. The fact is that mythology is one of the easiest things to write - because it's just chock full of things that make ready-made quizbowl clues. As Magin indicated, writing tossups on detailed social science concepts is a royal pain in the ass, because you don't have a lot of ready-made quickfire clues. You also have difficulty constraints - world literature and social science are never gonna be great subjects at low difficulty levels, whereas the canon opens way up at higher levels. You have to work around these practical constraints - and navel-gazing about whether the result tracks some "curriculum" is beyond pointless.

Biology gets a ton of play in quizbowl, because it has a huge canon full of possible answer lines. (psst: us non-biologists find "name this protein" bowl really annoying, and the only reason why chemistry gets knocked more is probably because there are a lot more biologist-types running around quizbowl than people who study organic chem reactions). Mythology gets lots of play, becuse clues are easy to find and answer lines are plentiful, and it's very easy to find solid middle clues. The canon choices we've made don't track some notion of "curriculum" - but, they do track the practical demands of question writing.

I'd say that subjects like current events, popular literature, geography - those come down to personal preference more than anything. I don't think current events is particularly academic, and I certainly don't support it eating up any part of the history distribution. But ,then again, the whole notion of "academic" in quizbowl is a silly one - unless you really want quizbowl questions on women's studies and American culture.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by The Bold Ideas of Bernie Sanders (I-VT) » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:09 pm

Something I've always wondered about the chronology of literature: is there a point where more recent American authors like Jonathan Franzen and Richard Russo become more unquestioned as the basis for lit stuff as opposed to more historic or Nobel Lit-ed authors like J.M. Coetzee?
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by touchpack » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:15 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:I, for one, would benefit enormously from the relegation of chemistry to a minor science and the promotion of math to a major one.
Over my dead body

The distribution we are using is as follows:
4/4 Science (1/1 Biology, 1/1 Chemistry, 1/1 Physics, 1/1 Math and Other)
Your ideas are intriguing to me, and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Auroni » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:27 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:I, for one, would benefit enormously from the relegation of chemistry to a minor science and the promotion of math to a major one.
Over my dead body
yeah, it's not like eric knows math or anyth-
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Auroni » Thu Mar 14, 2013 8:29 pm

By the way, the reason that I decided to halve chem at WIT is not because I hate writing chemistry and not because nobody likes playing it, but because the chemistry answer space is pretty short compared to biology or physics, and using 1/1 every tournament results in most of the same stuff coming up over and over.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Chimango Caracara » Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:21 pm

I really don't think the chemistry answer space is that small... It's just that a few topics that are easy to write poorly, primarily named reactions, have dominated the distribution. There are a ton of things to ask about in inorganic chemistry, for example. And organic chemistry questions are only bad if you briefly describe a bunch of modifications and then name them without actually giving useful deep clues about the real reaction.

I really think the same complaint about a "small answer space" can be leveled at physics. Most physics tossups are one "Helmholtz free energy" or "the Hamiltonian" or "mass." Chemistry has functional groups, elements, reactions, reaction mechanisms, models as well as the stuff it shares with physics like thermodynamics and quantum mechanics. I don't think anyone is calling for physics to be reduced in the distribution. Physics works fine because the same fundamental parameters are important for many reasons; the same could be said of elements or functional groups. If people are dissatisfied with chemistry questions (and I certainly often am) then I think the best thing to do is to write better chemistry questions.

A possible way to revitalize the chemistry canon might be to place more biochemistry-focused biology questions, like "pentose phosphate pathway," in chemistry rather than biology (assuming they use actual chemical clues). This could open up more room in biology for questions on stuff like genetics or larger-scale physiology, etc.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Cody » Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:24 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:I really think the same complaint about a "small answer space" can be leveled at physics. Most physics tossups are one "Helmholtz free energy" or "the Hamiltonian" or "mass."
Nope.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:26 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:I really think the same complaint about a "small answer space" can be leveled at physics. Most physics tossups are one "Helmholtz free energy" or "the Hamiltonian" or "mass."
bradleykirksey wrote:If I can echo this, any tossup that begins "One of this man's experiments" will be Stanley Milgram.
Please stop making weird, baseless assertions about what does and does not come up.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by AKKOLADE » Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:31 pm

I just think there's too many questions in quiz bowl. What can be done to limit this scourge?
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Muriel Axon » Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:50 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:III. Write better SS questions, including science history if that generates good ideas.
It's easy to say to people, "write better SS questions!" ("Wait, you mean I should write good social science questions? Why wasn't I doing that before?!") I don't think many writers have a very good idea of what you mean by "better," though. I think those of us who've read your posts on this topic know what you don't like. (Turns out it largely coincides with what I don't like). But could you produce some examples of questions that do exemplify what you're looking for?

I think one step toward improving questions in the SS distribution is not to treat anthropology, sociology, economics, psychology, law, poli sci, etc. like they're all distinctly separate fields, because as they're practiced today, they aren't. I think one can cobble together tossups with clues from different SS fields and have them be coherent and interesting, and they may be more likely to portray these fields as living bodies of knowledge, since there's a lot of potential to incorporate more modern research into the early clues. There's nothing wrong with writing questions on Malinowski or Milton Friedman or what have you, but I think it would be cool to have some of these interdisciplinary questions per tournament.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Chimango Caracara » Thu Mar 14, 2013 9:53 pm

I mean, I don't literally mean that those three are the main things that come up in physics. I mean that most physics tossups are on fundamental concepts that are analogous to those in chemistry. Obviously there are many, many more of these than the ones I listed; those were examples.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Cody » Thu Mar 14, 2013 10:58 pm

Chimango Caracara wrote:I mean, I don't literally mean that those three are the main things that come up in physics. I mean that most physics tossups are on fundamental concepts that are analogous to those in chemistry. Obviously there are many, many more of these than the ones I listed; those were examples.
Play more physics questions.

P.S. I'm so glad someone managed to work in the "MORE MATH" angle we all knew would be brought up. Now this topic can die for another year.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu Mar 14, 2013 11:37 pm

SirT wrote:I'm so glad someone managed to work in the "MORE MATH" angle we all knew would be brought up. Now this topic can die for another year.
I'm not sure why inertia should be seen (by some) as proof of optimality. To answer Shan, I agree that more SS questions should be cross-disciplinary. If you want an example, here's a question from PR that I liked:
A model of this phenomenon by Becker and Posner posits local convexities in the utility function as the explanation for this phenomenon and other purportedly risk-loving behavior. A study by Cutler, Glaeser, and Norberg aims to explain why this phenomenon is no longer increasing monotonically with age and why it takes the form of an epidemic. According to seminal research on this phenomenon, its rate declined 14% in both Austria and Italy after the outbreak of war in 1866 and in France after the coup d’etat of Napoleon III, and that research has been criticized on the ground that its finding that this phenomenon is less prevalent in Catholics than in Protestants is based on biased measurement error stemming from differing religious views of this phenomenon. For 10 points, name this phenomenon studied by Emile Durkheim in a seminal work of social science, which consists of taking one’s own life.
ANSWER: suicide
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:01 am

I agree with Marshall that myth is dumb. I also think that each of RMP is overrepresented.

Regarding R: Every person on this thread probably knows what Cao Dai is. Maybe one or two people on this thread know anything about post-invasion Vietnam. That is self-evidently weird.

M: Of all the famous stories that have been told, the myth distribution draws from an extremely small subset of them. Are there any good reasons for favoring certain stories from over others in the distribution on the basis of whether the the stories in question originated in a society that was widely-literate?

P: Whether or not philosophy is overrepresented depends on what exactly the quizbowl community considers to be philosophy. If philosophy includes early modern science and social science, critical theories of all kinds, and some other strains of intellectual history, then it clearly is not overrepresented. If it is only Aristotle->Plato->boring middle ages people->rationalists->empiricists->phenomenologists->"cat is on the mat" people, then it clearly is overrepresented.

RMP should be decreased by half. Social Science and history since 2000 should be increased.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Matt Weiner » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:06 am

And yet again the annual "radically change the distribution to meet some ill-defined, constantly changing goal that I have in no way proven is the purpose of quizbowl" thread devolves into a bunch of people just making arbitrary pronouncements, and we all go to bed ready to do it again in 2014.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Cheynem » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:08 am

If people wish to tweak the distro or try some experimentation:

Write good questions on topics you would like to see represented. Submit them to tournaments or use them at tournaments you edit. If they are interesting and well written, they will be used. History has shown that if people write on topics and it succeeds, others will emulate them.

Nobody reading this thread is going to be like "By god, I should writing more math questions!" if they don't currently like writing math questions.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:11 am

The existence of an overasked, under-important/over-dumb answer within a category is not automatically evidence that the category in question is overrepresented within the distribution. How many arguments in this thread fall apart when that silly rhetorical crutch is removed?
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Auroni » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:15 am

Chimango Caracara wrote:I really don't think the chemistry answer space is that small... It's just that a few topics that are easy to write poorly, primarily named reactions, have dominated the distribution. There are a ton of things to ask about in inorganic chemistry, for example. And organic chemistry questions are only bad if you briefly describe a bunch of modifications and then name them without actually giving useful deep clues about the real reaction.
I've edited this category for enough tournaments without having it descend into ochem naraka to be able to decisively tell you: you are wrong. In fact, you wouldn't even realize your wrongness until you try your hand at editing/writing this category for a tournament yourself.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:26 am

RyuAqua wrote:The existence of an overasked, under-important/over-dumb answer within a category is not automatically evidence that the category in question is overrepresented within the distribution. How many arguments in this thread fall apart when that silly rhetorical crutch is removed?
The Cao Dai example was a facetious way of making the poing that 1/1 religion leads to minor religion bowl. Regardless, my argument for reducing myth does not depend on the rhetorical crutch you mentioned, and I am genuinely interested in learning why quizbowlers think it is a good idea to distributionally favor the stories of certain societies.
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Re: Thinking about the Quizbowl Distribution

Post by Muriel Axon » Fri Mar 15, 2013 12:32 am

The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man wrote:
RyuAqua wrote:The existence of an overasked, under-important/over-dumb answer within a category is not automatically evidence that the category in question is overrepresented within the distribution. How many arguments in this thread fall apart when that silly rhetorical crutch is removed?
The Cao Dai example was a facetious way of making the poing that 1/1 religion leads to minor religion bowl.
Then write more questions on religions that aren't minor - there are still plenty of unexplored topics.
If it is only Aristotle->Plato->boring middle ages people->rationalists->empiricists->phenomenologists->"cat is on the mat" people, then it clearly is overrepresented.
Even excluding "early modern science and social science [etc.]" this is a really bad summary of the history of philosophy.
Shan Kothari

Plymouth High School '10
Michigan State University '14
University of Minnesota '20

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