A Criticism of Criticism

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A Criticism of Criticism

Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:08 pm

Hi,
It seems like most of what goes under the name criticism (of questions and tournaments) nowadays could be called ineffectual at best (and much worse than that at worst.) I think that there must be a better way of doing this and I'd like to discuss that because it seems clear that our current paradigm isn't producing good results.
I'll start things off by saying I recently heard read this column on what makes criticism of performance effective or not and it resonated with me. If you don't want to bother reading it, I'll summarize by saying that it posits four criteria that effective (in the sense of producing better performance) criticism meets, and these are:
  • That it presents a difficult-to-dispute causal chain from the behavior criticized to some undesirable result;
  • That the motive for the criticism is reasonably only the betterment of the performance of the person criticized;
  • That the source of criticism is reasonably an authority in the relevant area; and
  • That the behavior criticized is not considered by the person criticized as an integral part of their identity.
It seems to me that only rarely are most of these criteria met by criticism as posted on this board which, if we accept this as a good list, may go some way towards explaining why such criticism is rarely effectual. I think we can do a lot of these things better in a variety of ways. What do you think?
Also, since it's probably necessary, I'll preempt some pointless derailments by saying the following things. First, this isn't in response to any particular thread, tournament, or person and I advise you not to act like it is (both as the originator of this thread and as an administrator of this board.) Secondly, if you want to question my motives, commitment, character, etc. feel free to start your own thread to do so (so as not to derail this one) and I don't care if you do, either.

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Post by SnookerUSF » Mon Apr 30, 2007 2:55 pm

To the distinguished gentleman from Illinois:

There seemed to be one thing absent from her analysis of her two experiences, the presence of which I think is the primary reason why discussion on this board fails to be as effective as it probably should.

Straightforwardly, the conveyance of criticism in written form almost always lacks the subtlety, nuance, and the psychological reflexiveness of face-to-face communication. It is often difficult to pick up in writing on such important tropes for personal criticism as: irony, genuine sympathy, or humor-unless one is both very good at writing, and very good at judging the character of those to which they are communicating.

Furthermore, there are a number of "paper tigers" on this board (though this is certainly not unique to this discussion board) who are bombastic to the point of battering. This behavior is so evidently rampant that it is considered normal operating procedure. However, in the not-so-rare instances where message board pugilists meet on the field of battle in weekend-emptied academic buildings across the country, you will find little of the public excoriation which occurs in this forum. Instead, there are strange and awkward half-acknowledgments and glances followed by equally awkward scurrying to the next round.

To the specific points she raised which you mentioned:

On the circuit do you believe there is currently a "reasonable" and commonly acknowledged manner in which authority can be established either as a writer, editor, or player?
This question is quite different from, "who do you think is a commonly acknowledged authority?" I think that question is less contentious than the former.

The point about the betterment of performance is also an interesting one, especially in the pale florescent light of quizbowl. We certainly want better questions, and better question writers-but at the same time I certainly want (and do not think I am alone though I "do not speak for the quizbowl community") to beat these players who are writing these questions better. It seems that the ability to write good questions and being a good player in general are not unrelated. I will not broach the question of whether or not there is a causal connection, but I would imagine there is a strong statistically significant correlation in this regard. But I wonder about this, can we have both a country of excellent question writers and nationally dominate players?

Regards,

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Re: A Criticism of Criticism

Post by millionwaves » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:20 pm

ImmaculateDeception wrote:
  • That the behavior criticized is not considered by the person criticized as an integral part of their identity.
This strikes me as very accurate, and unfortunately, this is where we run into problems. The people who post on this board are often very (and rightly) passionate about the game, and are obviously apt to be sensitive to any criticism about the way they play (or facilitate playing).

I don't see any way to change this...
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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:21 pm

I have to at least partially side with the distinguished gentleman from USF here. If we restrict the right to engage in criticism to those who are "experts," then nobody but the people who are currently experts will ever become such. Everyone has a right to an opinion anyway, whether it be stupid or valid. Now as to the "paper tiger" comment. Yes, there are many many internets tough guys on this board. A few of us are assholes in real life (although I'm pretty sure nobody here would fuck with Ahmad, regardless of his genuinely pleasant demeanor...), but most of the bombastic posters here are pretty nice people in person. Perhaps that attitude needs to stop (I speak, of course, to myself as well as others). Excoriation has, indeed, become the norm on the board, and while it doesn't preclude rationality, it certainly cases reasonable arguments in a form that is often ultimately unpalatable to those on the wrong end of it. So come on people, let's start keeping it civil, and next time you see any member of the USF team at a tournament be sure to stop and shake their hand.

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Post by DumbJaques » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:36 pm

. . . Eric Kwartler is friend to all?

I'll slightly disagree, mainly because I love spite. I do think the comments about a tournament could stand a bit of a scaling-back, particularly when the editor/people running it/whatever is putting forth a real effort to produce a good set. No matter how much something sucks, I think that kind of effort and attitude should preclude you from having to endure insults, no matter how much criticism your tournament rightly engenders. But I also think, on this board and in life, that scaling back ire, anger, disgust, or any of the other blessed sacraments of hsqb when they are well and truly earned ruins all of your "good" comments too. If people who are quite literally ruining quizbowl end up getting a neutral or even slightly encouraging evaluation from someone, I'm going to look very fucking dubiously upon any comments he makes about, say, a tournament that I might run. I suppose it makes me a total asshole to request that some spite be preserved, and it'll probably end up coming back to haunt me, as I foresee open season on my ass when I run a tournament. But I'll take one for the proverbial team (which no one will want me on after this post) to ensure that everything I love about HATE isn't banished to AHAN junior. Also, I just read a few moon pie packets before posting this, if that explains anything.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:44 pm

I've seen my share of flame-worthy shit, and it's fine to get angry when anger is necessary, but it shouldn't be the norm. I am in no way suggesting that anyone scale back the negativity of their evaluations; if something deserves to be pilloried, it should be pilloried, but I think unduly violent excoriation has a great potential to diminish rather than enhance one's position. I love spite as much as the next guy, and sometimes it's just irresistible, but we needn't allow it to dominate our valued discourse.

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Post by BigFlax » Mon Apr 30, 2007 4:55 pm

There's almost no difference between "this tournament sucked and here's why" and "this tournament needed improvement, and here's what I think it should have been" except for the tone. The content of two posts written in those two styles would be nearly identical. I highly doubt that I'm the only non-regular poster who feels that more often than not, threads of that sort devolve pretty quickly into the "sucked" camp, no matter how they started or which side of the fence was helping things turn. I do think, however, that people are always going to be more receptive to criticism when it's handed down in an even-handed manner, and not as part of a "who can write the wittiest put-down of the questions" contest. If this is supposed to be the quiz bowl board these days - and given the disdainful tone I've sometimes seen taken when discussing people who didn't either read or post something important here, that seems to be the claim/perception - then it should probably be a little more willing as a whole to dole out its wisdom in slightly less acerbic fashion. Right now it's more like 10-12 people ready to harangue anyone they disagree with at a moment's notice. I see no reason why this has to be the default.

*awaits haranguing*

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Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:15 pm

Hoss Cartwright wrote:If we restrict the right to engage in criticism to those who are "experts..."
I didn't see anyone suggesting that, dude. Anyone can have an opinion and anyone can feel free to say whatever they want; those facts go without saying. I'll take it even one step further: as an administrator of this board, I'll make it clear that I have less than no interest in stifling anyone's opinion (if that somehow wasn't sufficiently obvious from the amount of stuff that I think is just outright wrong that is posted.) That's not what this is about at all.
So, that strawman burned down, what I am wanting to look at is how we can make the game better by saying things, since, if this isn't about making the game better, I don't give a damn about it. I'm saying that I don't see how most of the criticism that exists now is doing anything toward that end.

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Post by Captain Sinico » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:20 pm

SnookerUSF wrote:Straightforwardly, the conveyance of criticism in written form almost always lacks the subtlety, nuance, and the psychological reflexiveness of face-to-face communication. It is often difficult to pick up in writing on such important tropes for personal criticism as: irony, genuine sympathy, or humor-unless one is both very good at writing, and very good at judging the character of those to which they are communicating.
I acknowledge that that is an issue, but I think it's an ancillary one. If, for example, someone whose expertise on or motives about the game I don't trust (say... Richard Reid) sends me a ream of the most nuanced, nicest criticism of my questions that I've ever seen, chances are it's still getting added to the scrap paper folder.
SnookerUSF wrote:On the circuit do you believe there is currently a "reasonable" and commonly acknowledged manner in which authority can be established either as a writer, editor, or player?
This question is quite different from, "who do you think is a commonly acknowledged authority?" I think that question is less contentious than the former.
That is closer the heart of the matter as I see it. I have people whose opinions I trust and I have people whose views I don't find so valuable. I'm wondering how we can go about finding figures whose opinions matter to people and seeing what they think. In short, I don't know the answer to this and I'd like to see what people think about it (or even if it's a good idea or whatever.)

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Post by SnookerUSF » Mon Apr 30, 2007 5:24 pm

The article which was cited at the beginning of this topic thread made it clear that criticism works especially well when the individual is willing to take his or her medicine and work through it. To quote the article directly:

"What you need is not the humility and level-headedness to listen to another’s point of view. Instead, you need to be so focused on succeeding at something that you swallow your pride and do whatever you are told."

It is evident that there are a number of people in the game that are very successful, because they obsess, nitpick, and are passionate. Look, think about this game-if you are sitting in a room of quality players, and a question is rolling on and suddenly it dawns on you what the answer must be, not only do you have to take the risk of being wrong, but you must assume that you have either a) more knowledge on the subject b) better anticipation or precognition skills than everyone else in the room to go ahead and pull the trigger. The amount of confidence that requires tossup after tossup is, I believe, intense. To be constantly thwarted by badly written questions, transparent clues, or irrelevant topics after shelling out $100+ is psychologically damaging and financially taxing and this is the place to get it out. So, I understand if the post-tournament hangover is a bit charged, but it does not need to devolve into old rehashed arguments which only engenders bitterness at best and apathy at worst.
DumbJacques wrote:I'll slightly disagree, mainly because I love spite.
I will admit I have enjoyed some of your posts and I have no problem with the occasional witty put-down, a couple of personal classics from your repertoire have included:
DumbJacques wrote:This issue was raised before, and we came to the conclusion that only losers and British people say "PLEASE MAKE FUN OF ME BECAUSE I SPEAK NEITHER LATIN NOR ENGLISH." Screw the damn dirty Latin foreigners.
Also annoying: When people fail to accept obviously equivalent answers, like the morons who go "It's Arnolfini WEDDING, not Arnolfini MARRIGAGE. Hahahahahaha, STUPID." Die.
and of course...
DumbJacques wrote:Dude, if I'm reading a round and I need to judge whether or not someone accurately described the result of Raman scattering, game freaking over, I don't care what's printed on the page to help me.

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Post by ecks » Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:02 pm

ImmaculateDeception wrote:
Hoss Cartwright wrote:If we restrict the right to engage in criticism to those who are "experts..."
I didn't see anyone suggesting that, dude. Anyone can have an opinion and anyone can feel free to say whatever they want; those facts go without saying.
I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that Sword Bowl 2006 had the most awkward tossup EVAR read. You know, the one about Hokusai, the one that contained the words 'tentacle porn(ography)'? Yeah, that one.
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Post by DumbJaques » Mon Apr 30, 2007 10:36 pm

Dude, the Arnolfini thing actually earned an irate email from someone who had done that to me and read the forum. While this had happened to me more than once and I wasn't even exclusively referencing whoever that was, I still consider it a personal triumph in my asshole adventures, which I hope will one day achieve syndication. As I recall, that person was a high school girl who continued to pester me on AIM about it, to the point that I blocked her. I recently had account issues, so everyone I'd ever blocked (a lot of people hate me) got unblocked, and it took her like 2 hours to IM me again and continue with the diatribe. If this proves one thing, it's that we can all hate, but few can hate with the stamina and longevity of quizbowlers.

Also, I'd use this opportunity to vote for Jerry as qb Pope, but he'd probably lose to that guy from the south who hates Jews.

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Post by Matt Weiner » Mon Apr 30, 2007 10:42 pm

DumbJaques wrote: that guy from the south who hates Jews
I'm sorry, this isn't uniquely identifying. I'll have to prompt.

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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Mon Apr 30, 2007 10:47 pm

Otto Witte wrote:
ImmaculateDeception wrote:
Hoss Cartwright wrote:If we restrict the right to engage in criticism to those who are "experts..."
I didn't see anyone suggesting that, dude. Anyone can have an opinion and anyone can feel free to say whatever they want; those facts go without saying.
I'd like to take this opportunity to point out that Sword Bowl 2006 had the most awkward tossup EVAR read. You know, the one about Hokusai, the one that contained the words 'tentacle porn(ography)'? Yeah, that one.
That was a stupid way to phrase a legitimate clue. Dream of the Fisherman's Wife is a solid clue for Hokusai, but there's no reason for idiots to Chancellor of the Exchequer and say tentacle porn. Just as the objections to tossups on "G spot" and "sex change" are based on the fact that they're far far closer to trash (in the case of G spot, that is a trash tossup) than SCIENCE, in which they were almost definitely distributed, the objection to that tossup should not be that the work in question was obscene, but rather that the question writer has the maturity and writing skill of a 12 year old boy.

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Post by SnookerUSF » Tue May 01, 2007 12:38 am

DumbJaques wrote:Dude, the Arnolfini thing actually earned an irate email from someone who had done that to me and read the forum... I recently had account issues, so everyone I'd ever blocked (a lot of people hate me) got unblocked, and it took her like 2 hours to IM me again and continue with the diatribe. If this proves one thing, it's that we can all hate, but few can hate with the stamina and longevity of quizbowlers.
Perhaps this speaks to the nature of commentary on this board. Since it is saved for such a long time and the memories of many a quizbowler are quite long, the same arguments, accusations and counter-accusations are brought up again and again. One would think, since they are saved, that just the opposite would occur, i.e. we would not have to rehash them. But in fact the opposite occurs, the lines of division are reified into the message board, take a glance over at our lovely emoticons for validation. Also, given the penchant on this board for comparisons and rankings and the very nature of the game, one-upmanship is a common artifact in discourse.
Perhaps if common slogans or allusions were avoided like "ACF IS IMPOSSIBLE" or :arminius: then the whole machinery of spite could be disassembled or at least mothballed until the most egregious of violations occurs. One dangerous consequence of my comments is that the logical conclusion of such a view would require strong-handed editing from the moderators. I am sure they lack both the desire or the time to do so. Self-censorship probably isn't much better, since that will only result in more passive aggressive and ultimately useless comments.

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Post by AKKOLADE » Tue May 01, 2007 3:07 am

SnookerUSF wrote:One dangerous consequence of my comments is that the logical conclusion of such a view would require strong-handed editing from the moderators. I am sure they lack both the desire or the time to do so. Self-censorship probably isn't much better, since that will only result in more passive aggressive and ultimately useless comments.
I am absolutely not going to be engaging in broad censorship of any kind. As long as I am allowed to make stupid threads for random name changes, hsquizbowl will allow people to say what they want, even if it's patently idiotic. Of course, if it is idiotic then everyone can tell you so.
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Post by ecks » Tue May 01, 2007 12:13 pm

SnookerUSF wrote:Perhaps if common slogans or allusions were avoided like "ACF IS IMPOSSIBLE"
But this is true! No one has ever scored points in ACF, ever. Anyone who has ever claimed to score points in ACF is a liar.
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Post by setht » Sun May 06, 2007 1:37 pm

I think this is a long-overdue discussion; here's my overly-long contribution.

My feeling is that most "tournament criticism" these days does not have as its primary objective the modification of people's behavior, but rather the venting of the poster's spleen, preferably with as many references to moose cocks and steaming mountains of feces as possible. I find these "I hate you die die die" posts boring, often idiotic, and counterproductive. You're all reasonably intelligent; you're capable of thinking carefully about things, then communicating clearly what you've come up with. This is a large part of what I value in hearing (good) quizbowl questions, and I wish people would make more use of these faculties in writing real quizbowl-related posts. I have no problem with people throwing this out the window and making inane posts in silly threads that are clearly designated for such silliness, but I think we all stand to benefit if the threads with some potential for usefulness are not bloated with useless posts--for instance, why do we have a post in this thread reminiscing about a tossup from last year that included the words "tentacle porn," or a post being cute about stating that more than one "guy from the south...hates Jews," or a post mocking the "ACF IS IMPOSSIBLE" stance? What do any of these things have to do with trying to figure out how to produce effective criticism?

Moving back to the real point of this thread, I'll say that I think the 4 criteria Mike presented sound reasonable (I'm thinking exclusively of criticisms of questions/packets/tournaments; perhaps there should be other criteria for other types of criticism, but I'm not particularly interested in that). Going through them in order:

I do feel that people could often do a better job of presenting "a difficult-to-dispute causal chain from the behavior criticized to some undesirable result." For one thing, I think people could do a better job about presenting such a chain clearly and calmly. When someone says, "This question sucked moose cock, here's why," it's much easier for me to stop reading after "moose" and ignore any well-reasoned argument that might follow, than it is for me to ignore a well-reasoned argument presented in clear, reasonably polite language that opens with something along the lines of, "I don't think this question was as good as the rest of the set, here's why..." Another point: I often feel that people could do a better job of being more clear about why they didn't like something and what could have been done to fix it--suppose some new person tries to write a packet, or edit a tournament, and winds up with lots of biography tossups with bad biography clues, a la "His father worked as a cop, his mom stayed at home, he was born in 1920, he attended Harvard..." Suppose the tournament set (or packet) also has a good "biography" tossup on, say, Coulomb, with clues discussing real stuff in science named for Coulomb, Coulomb's important scientific work, etc. If all this new person hears is the criticism "too much biography bowl, that stuff is terrible, never do it again," how is he/she supposed to know that the Coulomb tossup is fine but the others are not, and why?

This ties in with the second point ("the motive for the criticism is reasonably only the betterment of the performance of the person criticized"), which I think is of paramount importance, and is where I think most current "tournament criticism" fails. To my mind, the real goal of any tournament criticism should be to improve future events--events run by the same people that ran the tournament being criticized, and events run by other people who read the thread and learn from intelligent criticism of other people's events. Again, when I start seeing phrases like "worst tournament ever" and "this packet made me want to rip my eyes out," I have a hard time believing that the person writing the post honestly wants to see the editor/writer/TD learn from their mistakes and do a better job next time. Many times I'm left with the impression that people want to see the editor/writer/TD they're criticizing retire from quizbowl. I have a hard time understanding this type of response, since pretty every single person who writes this type of post has been guilty of writing bad packets and editing bad tournaments at some point in their past. Many of these angry people managed to learn something about writing and editing over the years, for the most part without having people scream at them; why not give people the benefit of the doubt, post some useful criticism, and try to get them to the same lofty heights of great question-writing/editing you inhabit? After all, the more people learn to write and edit good questions, the better-off we all are.

I'm not really sure what to say about the third point--I'm not sure what makes someone "reasonably an authority." To some extent, I'd say anyone in the target audience of a tournament set is "reasonably an authority." Aside from that, I guess people "establish their credentials" by writing good questions and editing well-received tournaments (NOT from writing tons of posts on this board). Anyway, assuming the question/packet/tournament being criticized is intended for collegiate competition, I'd say pretty much any college student should feel free to weigh in on things they feel they know about, and writers/editors should feel free to decide for themselves how seriously they want to take any given criticism.

Again, I don't think the fourth point has much of interest. We all take quizbowl reasonably seriously, but I don't think anyone feels so strongly about their own writing/editing/TDing merits that they'll feel threatened by polite, constructive criticism.

Moving on from the initial post by Mike: I think Ahmad makes some good points. I agree that many subtleties can be lost in writing. For this reason, I think it's important to try to be clear about criticism and spell things out ("this isn't so good, because..."). I also agree with Ahmad that various posters tend to adopt a style that is "bombastic to the point of battering," and that this is a bad thing. Over in the thread discussing this year's ICT, Jerry claims "to the best of my knowledge, [Seth] has never said anything bad about any tournament ever." I find this strange, since in my post about ICT I did discuss some bad things (bonus variability, some tossups that were too easy too fast [e.g., Battleship Potemkin], etc.). I tried to lay out my criticisms in a calm, polite manner, and I mentioned many of the positive aspects of the tournament in my post because I thought ICT was good overall and I was writing partly in reaction to some posts that I thought were "bombastic to the point of battering," but does any of this invalidate or weaken the criticisms I made? Do I have to scream insults for people to realize that I'm talking about something that I think could have been better, and that they should work on in the future?

Millionwaves, I don't think it's a problem that people are passionate about quizbowl--in fact, I think that makes it more likely that people will care enough about quizbowl performance to incorporate feedback. The point, I think, is that when we say to someone, "this question wasn't so good because..." we're not causing irrevocable psychic trauma--people can handle (calm, polite) criticism.

I guess I agree with Eric that "Excoriation...doesn't preclude rationality." However, I usually feel that the level of anger in posts excoriating packets and tournaments is not what I would call a rational response.

Chris mentions "people who are quite literally ruining quizbowl." I don't think any such people exist. I also can't think of a single editor/TD that doesn't put forth "a real effort to produce a good set." The issue is not that there are people trying to produce horrible sets, it's that there are people who don't really understand what to do with the time they put in to working on their packets/sets. I think at least some of these people will respond positively to clear, calm, constructive criticism.

Eric then states that he's seen "flame-worthy shit, and it's fine to get angry when anger is necessary." I don't think any question, packet or tournament set has ever struck me as "flame-worthy," but perhaps he sets the bar lower. In general I don't see where anger could be necessary in posting criticism; perhaps anger could be necessary in dealing with people trying to sabotage a tournament or a club or something, but that's not criticism.

I agree with Robert. If you're really pissed off about something, take some time to calm down and think about things clearly before posting. I've played tournaments where I did not have a good time, but realized after looking over the questions later that the fault lay with me, not the questions. Wait until the "post-tournament hangover" Ahmad mentions has gone away.

All right, I'm done. And in case anyone won't hear what I'm saying if I keep things calm and polite, calm the fuck down, bitches!

-Seth

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Post by Matt Weiner » Sun May 06, 2007 2:50 pm

At least in my own posts, I try to make a distinction among three types of bad questions/tournaments:

*Efforts by inexperienced writers who may not know any better. These should be handled with care since such people are doing their best and can benefit the most from detailed, explicit, and respectful analysis of how to fix their problems.

*Lapses by people who have produced good tournaments in the past. These need some scolding, and such an approach can be most effective here since the people in question are usually thick-skinned and probably want to make up for their mistakes. Hey, it worked on me ("stop writing 12 line tossups for ACF Fall, dude!")

*Continued production of crap by people who have been around long enough to change if they ever were going to change, and who have defied every attempt at rational discussion. When Charlie Steinhice, in his 50th tournament as editor, puts out another 4.5-line tossup on Mahmoud Ahmedinajad where every single clue contains the word "Iran" in it, he's basically doing nothing but giving the finger to the concept of editorial responsibility. There's no sweetness of language or brilliance of logic that's going to convince someone like that to shape up their act. You can either ignore it, or yell at it. I don't begrudge people such as Seth who just choose not to get involved, but at the same time I don't think my own frustrations with the fact that people get away with these sorts of tournaments while I spend days on end working to make mine as good as I can are such a problem. It's not like there's some other approach I can be taking to these people that will actually produce a good end, since the whole point is that these people are beyond help.

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Birdofredum Sawin
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Post by Birdofredum Sawin » Sun May 06, 2007 4:11 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
*Continued production of crap by people who have been around long enough to change if they ever were going to change, and who have defied every attempt at rational discussion. When Charlie Steinhice, in his 50th tournament as editor, puts out another 4.5-line tossup on Mahmoud Ahmedinajad where every single clue contains the word "Iran" in it, he's basically doing nothing but giving the finger to the concept of editorial responsibility. There's no sweetness of language or brilliance of logic that's going to convince someone like that to shape up their act. You can either ignore it, or yell at it. I don't begrudge people such as Seth who just choose not to get involved, but at the same time I don't think my own frustrations with the fact that people get away with these sorts of tournaments while I spend days on end working to make mine as good as I can are such a problem. It's not like there's some other approach I can be taking to these people that will actually produce a good end, since the whole point is that these people are beyond help.
Well, what's the point of yelling? Is it your idea that Charlie, or whoever, will suddenly have a conversion experience and come around to your way of thinking if you can only insult him enough? I think everybody has gotten the point: the tournaments Charlie produces don't meet your standards. Is there anything else to "discuss"?

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Captain Sinico
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Post by Captain Sinico » Sun May 06, 2007 5:35 pm

See, now we're talking. I'd just like to say I more or less exactly agree with Seth and Andrew. I'll also say that I sympathize with people who are quick to anger (being, to some extent, in that condition myself), but, to give that anger vent without careful consideration of its effect on the game can be damaging to the game.
To wit, I think that a lot of things that could comprise effective criticism do much to marginalize themselves by their bombast. I find that unfortunate.

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Mr. Kwalter
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Post by Mr. Kwalter » Sun May 06, 2007 7:27 pm

setht wrote:Eric then states that he's seen "flame-worthy shit, and it's fine to get angry when anger is necessary." I don't think any question, packet or tournament set has ever struck me as "flame-worthy," but perhaps he sets the bar lower. In general I don't see where anger could be necessary in posting criticism; perhaps anger could be necessary in dealing with people trying to sabotage a tournament or a club or something, but that's not criticism.
To clarify, when I said flame-worthy shit. I really meant posts, not questions/tournaments. I'm guilty of my share of venom when it comes to question criticism, and that sort of behavior is almost definitely uncalled for. I think most people here agree with that, but it's hard to practice what you preach. However, sometimes people say things either so stupid or so terrible
Dren Rollins
that they need to be scolded for it. Perhaps said scolding shouldn't take the form of seriously nasty and inappropriate language, but it should be done nonetheless.

Overall I agree with Seth, although I think he overestimates the ability of a calm, rational person to get anyone to listen to them. That being said, kumbaya.

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setht
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Post by setht » Sun May 06, 2007 8:04 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:At least in my own posts, I try to make a distinction among three types of bad questions/tournaments:

*Efforts by inexperienced writers who may not know any better. These should be handled with care since such people are doing their best and can benefit the most from detailed, explicit, and respectful analysis of how to fix their problems.

*Lapses by people who have produced good tournaments in the past. These need some scolding, and such an approach can be most effective here since the people in question are usually thick-skinned and probably want to make up for their mistakes. Hey, it worked on me ("stop writing 12 line tossups for ACF Fall, dude!")

*Continued production of crap by people who have been around long enough to change if they ever were going to change, and who have defied every attempt at rational discussion. When Charlie Steinhice, in his 50th tournament as editor, puts out another 4.5-line tossup on Mahmoud Ahmedinajad where every single clue contains the word "Iran" in it, he's basically doing nothing but giving the finger to the concept of editorial responsibility. There's no sweetness of language or brilliance of logic that's going to convince someone like that to shape up their act. You can either ignore it, or yell at it. I don't begrudge people such as Seth who just choose not to get involved, but at the same time I don't think my own frustrations with the fact that people get away with these sorts of tournaments while I spend days on end working to make mine as good as I can are such a problem. It's not like there's some other approach I can be taking to these people that will actually produce a good end, since the whole point is that these people are beyond help.
I agree with most of Matt's points about the first two types of critiques. I'd say that even in the second case it can be useful to include some more detailed critique of particular questions or issues--not necessarily because the experienced person in question doesn't understand what went wrong, but some of the people reading the thread may not, and could benefit from an explication.

Moving on to the category of "Continued production of crap by people who have been around long enough to change if they ever were going to change, and who have defied every attempt at rational discussion": here I disagree with Matt. I think there's still a point to posting calm, clear critiques of the questions produced by such people--perhaps they never will change, but they're not the entirety of the target audience (if they actually are your entire target audience, because your real goal is to harangue them, why not send an email?). There are lots of people out there who read this board and don't know how to write/edit/run good questions; presumably they can still benefit from intelligent criticisms of tournaments, even if they weren't directly responsible for them. I think this is an example of "some other approach [Matt] can be taking to these people that will actually produce a good end."

Moving on to Matt's references to Charlie Steinhice: for one thing, I wouldn't characterize the last several critiques of Charlie's as "attempts at rational discussion." More importantly, I think Matt's breakdown of possible responses ("ignore it, or yell at it") is overly simplistic, and ignores a third option which I find more appealing: post some useful criticism of the questions that bugged you (or some selection of questions that bugged you, if there are too many to go through) in the hopes that some of the packet writers, or even some completely uninvolved but interested people will read your criticisms, take them to heart, and work to improve. That is, if you're going to bother reacting to the questions, see if you can do something more useful than screaming at a guy that you think doesn't react to screaming. Assuming Matt's right and Charlie really does ignore all the critical posts, I'd say the main effect of the overly-angry posts following Charlie's last several tournaments has been to convince many casual readers of the board that various quizbowl personalities are a bunch of shrieking jackasses. I don't believe any of the people making these posts are in reality shrieking jackasses, and I wish they'd do a better job with their posts.

Now, perhaps there is some other goal that people have in mind when they post these invective-laden screeds lambasting Charlie's tournaments. Perhaps they're hoping to drive away Charlie's potential customers, or perhaps they're hoping to force Charlie into retiring from quizbowl. From the looks of things, these posts are not accomplishing either of these potential objectives, so if there's anyone out there making these posts with either of these objectives in mind, do us all a favor and shut up (better yet, do us all a favor and post something useful about the tournaments as they go by). Leaving the futility issue aside, I would argue that neither of these objectives are worthwhile. I don't think the Southeast is overflowing with quizbowl tournaments; in particular, I don't think Charlie's tournaments are standing in the way of better tournaments. If Charlie stopped running tournaments today, I think there would be significantly less quizbowl in the Southeast, which does not seem like a worthwhile goal. If Charlie had stopped running tournaments 2 years ago, would there have been as many local teams at this year's ACF Nationals? As many volunteer staff people? Would Vanderbilt have had a strong enough club to even submit a bid? I don't really know the region that well, but I get the impression that Charlie's tournaments serve an important role in keeping a lot of people and clubs involved with the game, and I think that's worthwhile. I imagine some people will argue that Charlie's tournaments teach people to hate good questions; I don't think that's the case. When I first started playing quizbowl, many of the tournaments I played in my first couple years were, I think, not better than, say, this year's Moon Pie. Somehow I survived that, and I see no reason to believe that people who play in Charlie's tournaments will never evolve as players, writers and editors to the point where they can produce lots of good questions. If all of those not-so-good tournaments had been shut down, would I have gotten to a "good writer/editor" stage faster? I rather doubt it; in fact, if there'd only been a tournament or two per year I think I might have dropped out of quizbowl, or never decided to invest more time in it. So my take on the Southeast is that it's a region where more quizbowl is a good thing, even if some of the quizbowl doesn't conform to very high standards. I think it's to everyone's benefit to write calm, clear posts pointing out what these tournaments can do better, so that aspiring writers in the Southeast and elsewhere can learn. I think this strategy has some hope of producing a good end, unlike the current/recent paradigm.

-Seth

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ValenciaQBowl
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Post by ValenciaQBowl » Mon May 07, 2007 9:11 am

Thanks for articulating so well what many of us have been thinking, Seth.

What I most appreciate is the idea that playing on rounds (or, less pleasant, whole tournaments) that have flawed questions also presents opportunities for learning. On the long drive back to Orlando from Chattanooga, I was able to talk to Valencia players about the merits (and, uh, demerits) of some of the individual questions we had played on. When we start again this week, I'll take some of the questions that had poorly placed or phrased clues and go through a rewriting process on them with my team in hopes of helping them think carefully about question structure. Remember, teams submitted these questions to a tournament, and though an editor is responsible for fixing these problems, the issue remains that many folks need to learn more about structuring questions, a skill which can only really be gained by playing and reading many rounds, a process which can take years. So patience and encouragement are helpful.

Also, a lot of the openers that seemed howlingly obvious to us in Div I weren't so much to my first-year players; our subsequent discussion of those clues helped them to know what's considered to be obviously known about certain answers. This should allow them to avoid putting those lines into openers in their future writing.

Finally, in an article in this month's Atlantic (on elaborate revenge scams played on online 419 scammers, highly recommended!), I came across the term "cyber disinhibition," something we all know about but I hadn't seen defined as such. As Eric K has written elsewhere, some of the folks who are most aggressive in their typed attacks here are perfectly cordial, if not congenial, in person. However, it's easy to take extreme positions and be utterly scornful of others online, so too often things are typed which if said in person could lead to a punch in the neck. I would just like to encourage folks to always keep in mind that everyone who posts to this board loves the game, and we all want every tournament to succeed (or we should, anyway). As a noted Scottish philosopher asked, what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?

--cborg, feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, for 3-4 minutes anyway.

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