geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

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Re: Chicago Open 2009 Discussion

Post by Captain Sinico » Wed Sep 09, 2009 11:37 am

Magister Ludi wrote:I laughed out loud when I saw that you are differentiating these two clues based on the possible availability of "deeper meaning" for players. Both "Dent-in-tile lake is the deepest lake in country X" and "there is a blank page in the bottom right hand corner" are facts. Your hunch that more players will see a greater possibility for "deeper meaning' in clue about a detail from a painting rather than clue about a geographical feature is both unfounded and irrelevant. First there is no way to prove that people will find deeper meaning in the painting detail clue, and frankly even if we could objectively say that more players find the possibility of "deeper meaning" in the art clue I'm not sure what that would prove.
My contention is as founded as any other notion I (or, frankly, you) have about the way questions are written and played. It is eminently relevant given that the nature of the game, when implemented well, is to privilege higher knowledge and understanding; where such levels do not or cannot exist, we ought to adapt the way questions are constructed. As for proof, that depends how you mean. A painting is a created work, so it's often not difficult to understand what its creator might have meant by putting certain things in it (which is relevant to our current example,) much less the idea that its elements might have any deeper significance whatsoever. The same cannot be said for geography.

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Re: Chicago Open 2009 Discussion

Post by Mike Bentley » Wed Sep 09, 2009 12:18 pm

Cheynem wrote:During the last go-round about geography, several people suggested making Geography Monstrosity almost like a test case to see if interesting geography could be written for a higher level audience. Jeff Hoppes seems to suggest it did prove that, and I would agree with him. I don't know if anyone else thought so or thought not and why.
I thought it pretty much confirmed that geography questions are what I thought they were.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by setht » Wed Sep 09, 2009 12:58 pm

Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: Last year's ACF distribution called for 1/1 geography in the first 20/20. As far as I can tell, this put it on par with all of American literature, all of physics, all other social sciences, etc. For low-level events I can understand the allure of a question category that more novices are likely to know and to be capable of writing competent questions in.
This bit is Seth's first mistake because he has set up a straw man. It is incorrect (and a little insulting) to reduce the allure of geography questions to the fact that novices are likely to know geography and can write on it. This sentiment assumes that everyone would rather hear another humanities question rather than a geography question. Several players attending CO apparently do enjoy listening to geography questions because just in this thread Brendan Byrne, Mike Cheyne, Andy Watkins, Jeff Hoppes, and myself have said they enjoy hearing geography questions at higher level tournaments.
I'm not sure how you got "Seth thinks that geography questions only appeal to low-level players who don't know better" out of what I wrote there. I obviously know that that's not the case; I've played on national-level teams with Jeff Hoppes and Peter Austin, after all. What I meant is that I think there are arguments for keeping geography as a significant component of the distribution for lower-level events that don't hold for higher-level events. Whether there are other valid arguments for keeping geography as a required part of the distribution for high-level events is a separate issue that I tried to address later in that post. My later argument doesn't hinge on the obviously false assumption that every person at every high-level tournament will always prefer to hear some non-geography question to a geography question. I happen to believe that a large majority of the high-level-tournament-playing population would, in fact, be happier with less than 1 geography question per round, but if I'm wrong about that and we adopt my suggested amendment to the distribution I assume the result would be that we'd have nearly 1 geography question per packet, since lots of teams would opt to write geography for their minor social science question.
Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: To my mind, the question is: given that high-level teams have lots of non-geography academic knowledge, is there something about geography as a category or academic discipline which means that it merits a mandatory place in the distribution (whether at 1/1 per packet, or 1/0 or 0/1)? For comparison, here are some other categories that don't appear to have a mandatory spot in the old distribution: ancient literature and history, astronomy/astrophysics, computer science, earth science, mathematics, and any particular social science other than geography. I think it's fine that all of these categories don't have mandatory spots in the old distribution. The relative amounts of these categories almost certainly doesn't accurately reflect their relative importance in academia; I think that's also fine.

Now then, is geography more important than math? Or, moving to more closely allied fields, is it more important than earth science? More important than the rest of the social sciences put together? I think not, therefore I think geography shouldn't be getting 1/1 guaranteed per packet at high level tournaments. Focusing on the proposal to require 1/0 or 0/1 geography: is geography more important than psychology, economics, anthropology, and sociology considered separately? Does geography merit getting more than 3 times as many questions per high-level tournament as earth science? Again, I think not.
I thought we had already established that we cannot use a hazy sense of real-world academic importance to determine the distribution. Honestly can anyone justify why there are four times as many questions on history as there are on music in a packet? Why is history objectively four times as important as music? No one can offer a real standard to determine the sub-distribution. So when Seth says things like, "is there something about geography as a category or academic discipline which means that it merits a mandatory place in the distribution" that statement could be applied to every single category because quizbowl does not perfectly reflect academia. There are many academic disciplines which will have no questions asked on them. Once again this argument highlights by point of people fighting against geography who use inconsistent logic. Why do you apply this logic to geography and not to other disciplines? Can Seth or Matt offer a definitive standard about how they decide how many questions an academic discipline merits based on objective importance? I don't think anyone can offer this standard. If there is no standard then we are left to trust Seth or Matt's feel for what the subdistribution should be, which I think we can all agree is not a good way to assess the subdistribution.
I don't think we can justify every detail of the current distribution by arguing solely from real-world academic importance. Having said that, do you have some objection to arguing from real-world academic importance in proposing relatively small shifts in the distribution? Do you have some other suggestion for deciding which changes to the distribution are worthy of discussion and which are not? I assume you're not of the opinion that the current distribution is perfect in all ways and should never be touched; is that a correct assumption?

Jeff already pointed out that there are sensible differences in disciplines; it doesn't make sense to say that any arguments about geography's place in the distribution should apply in an exactly analogous fashion to "humanities" or "Estonian mythology." I think it's reasonable to take the current distribution as a starting point and let people propose areas that they think ought to expand/contract/appear/disappear, then discuss from there. I am not suggesting that all decisions regarding the distribution should be decided solely by me, Matt, or anyone other person, nor am I suggesting that people should trust my feel or Matt's feel or anyone else's feel for what the subdistribution ought to be. Instead, I am suggesting that a large majority popular opinion on academic importance and quizbowl-appropriateness* of categories seems like a reasonable basis for deciding which proposals are acted on. I'm trusting that people will actually make use of some sense of relative academic importance beyond "I do/don't like this particular topic." If you honestly feel that music should expand at the cost of history, or anything like that, I encourage you to bring it up. In the meantime, I'll say that I applied my logic to geography and not to other disciplines because geography is the category that I think has the largest difference in representation vs. relative importance in the distribution. Actually, I did apply my logic a bit to other disciplines: I think social science and RMP are both a bit short-changed at high-level events, and I suggested beefing up one or both of them at the expense of geography.

*I say quizbowl-appropriateness because there are academic disciplines that just don't translate into good quizbowl questions. Perhaps we should also consider prevalence of study among quizbowl players; perhaps we should consider some other factors as well. I'm open to discussion on what factors should influence distribution-related decisions.
Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: Teams with no geography knowledge can write on other social sciences if they prefer; teams with geography knowledge can write on geography if they prefer that to writing law questions, or archaeology or linguistics or whatever.
Seriously? Seriously? I cannot believe you wrote this sentence. So now you favor accommodating teams that have no knowledge of a field to have the option of just writing on something completely different. So if my team only has nobody who knows chemistry then they can just skip it, if my team has no one who can write music they can just skip it. This post is yet another instance of the geography critics using inconsistent logic. So because a team has no one that can write geography really well they have the option to skip it, but this option only exists for geography and not other categories.
What a hilarious misreading of my post! Should I go ahead and accuse you of the same silly idea of allowing teams to skip writing chemistry and music questions because you support allowing people to choose whether or not they will write questions on Beethoven or on Sikhism? As Jeff said before, not all categories are equal--for instance, using just the text you quoted, it should be clear that "this option" (of not writing on a topic) does not only exist for geography--it also exists for archaeology and linguistics and law questions. That's a reality of quizbowl: not every possible named category (or even just every named category typically associated with an independent department at a university, so we don't need to deal with stuff like "Estonian mythology") can have a part of the distribution reserved for it.

From what you wrote it sounds like you feel geography is on par with chemistry and music in terms of relative importance. From what I wrote before, it should be clear that I disagree with that evaluation, and that I rank geography approximately equally with various social sciences. Given my evaluation, is there really anything so unbelievable about my proposals? Is my evaluation unbelievable?


Ted, you've criticized anti-geography arguments of the forms "many people don't enjoy these questions" and "many people don't think this category is academically more important than certain other categories." As far as I can tell, your arguments in favor of keeping geography as a required part of the distribution are pretty much "some people do enjoy these questions," "some people do think this category is academically important relative to other categories," and "geography has been part of the distribution since the Stone Age." I'd like to point out that geography has not been a required part of the distribution throughout the rise of ACF; in fact, at several old tournaments it was lumped in with social science (see, e.g., this announcement). If you go back to some of the "early modern" ACF sets I think you'll find that Regionals and Nationals averaged less than 1 geography question per packet (for instance, I count 8 geography questions in the first 20/20 of the 17 packets from Nationals 2003). What I'm proposing for geography is not without plenty of precedent in the modern history of quizbowl.

I concede that there exist high-level quizbowl players that enjoy geography questions. I'm not 100% certain these players feel that geography is more important than (say) economics or mathematics; if they do, they are certainly entitled to their opinions. If that group is sizable enough (or persuasive enough) I think it would be reasonable to maintain geography as a required part of the distribution. For now, I'm sticking with voting for melding geography with social science and beefing up the representation of social science (and possibly RMP) in the first 20/20.

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by theMoMA » Wed Sep 09, 2009 3:24 pm

Just on face value, the fact that there are as many mandated geography questions as all of the social sciences combined seems ridiculous. There's no good reason not to reevaluate the newly elevated place of geography in the distribution in light of this apparent imbalance. People are looking for reasons to justify the feeling that geography has too large a role in the canon, and all of the reasons stated in the thread contribute to the picture. Geography is harder to write well, more prone to having uninteresting clues, and the audience of the questions isn't clear. But all of these things aren't complete explanations. It's impossible to justify completely the idea that one category is more important than another, but that shouldn't mean we ignore our gut feeling that geography is out of proportion in the distribution, and use our best judgment to try to right the imbalance if we feel it's warranted.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed Sep 09, 2009 6:20 pm

I'll get around to actually reading through this pedantic and taxing thread later, but I just wanted to say this:

Just because a clue names a waterfall or a bridge or an inlet doesn't make it an "almanac clue" - I take almanac clue to mean selecting named things randomly without any thought or reasoning. A lot of waterfalls, bridges, and inlets arguably have a lot of historical and cultural importance.

Let me illustrate. Is this an "almanac clue" in the derogatory sense? - "This author wrote a book featuring characters named Dr. Slop and Uncle Toby, entitled Tristram Shandy". I submit it's not an "almanac clue" because naming those characters and that title invokes the larger work that contains them - and that larger work is an important influential novel. Similarly, when you say "This lake contains X Bay into which Y River flows on which Z city is located" - that's not necessarily a "bad almanac clue" unless X Bay, Y River, and Z city are of themselves uninteresting or without merit. Now, sure - your questions shouldn't look like lists just like a literature tu shouldn't be just a list of titles and characters - but it's not that hard to find interesting things to stick in between the named things - it's not any harder than writing for any subject.

My point is this - it's tempting to dismiss the importance of lots of things in qb on the grounds that it's just a bunch of named stuff. But, a lot of that "named stuff" has importance and merit that is being implicitly invoked by the question - qb is not a game where we can very easily give lengthy discourses on exactly why those things are important, rather we often just say the names of things. I feel like people are too easily dismissing a clue about a bridge or building or a river - those things are sometimes important, and you have to make an effort in writing to choose important things and not just random things.


p.s.: remember that I don't support 1/1 geography in ACF but rather flexibility and a general goal of about 1/0 or 0/1 per packet, though I'm not concerned with precise numbers
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Cheynem » Wed Sep 09, 2009 6:25 pm

I am stunned to admit that I agree with Ryan in everything he said in that post.
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Re: Chicago Open 2009 Discussion

Post by Magister Ludi » Wed Sep 09, 2009 9:31 pm

Once more unto the breach.
The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
Ted wrote:As for the popularity argument I would point out that the call of the reduction of geography is not nearly as unilateral as some people claim. Several players have expressed their desire to have geography questions at high level tournaments in this thread alone and in the other geography thread the majority of posters favored the inclusion of geography. So before people pull this argument out of their hat again, I would love to see some sort of objective evidence that "everybody" hates geography.
The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote: Ted, everybody doesn't hate geography, but there are a disproportionate amount of people who would frankly rather hear something else. I agree with you that this is no standard for setting a distribution.
I think you prove my point when admit that this is no standard for setting the distribution.
The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
Ted wrote:Your hunch that more players will see a greater possibility for "deeper meaning' in clue about a detail from a painting rather than clue about a geographical feature is both unfounded and irrelevant. First there is no way to prove that people will find deeper meaning in the painting detail clue, and frankly even if we could objectively say that more players find the possibility of "deeper meaning" in the art clue I'm not sure what that would prove.
I'm willing to bet more people actively study the details of paintings in an academic setting than those who study the depth of a particular lake in a given country - appealing to the population of players will probably give you the same result. As for what that would prove, it gives you some benchmark of a particular facts' academic relevance at the very least, and I think quizbowl should strive to use academically relevant clues whenever possible.
I think you are using a narrow example because you are comparing the number of people who study a detail in a painting to the number of people who study the depth of a lake. I think a more appropriate comparison would be to compare the number of people who study a detail from a painting with the number of people who study a lake in the context of the country it is found in. The depth of a lake itself is not studied, but I guarantee you that there are classes that study the geological, cultural, and agricultural importance of a lake in the context of a country. I hold that my comparison between using a clue describing a detail from a scene in a painting and a clue describing a geographical detail from a country is still valid.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Sep 09, 2009 9:55 pm

Ted, this is exactly what I mean when I refer to the distinction between a question rewarding advanced study and a question being composed of advanced study (e.g. in this post). Serious scholars of art history don't write articles called "I found a piece of paper in the corner of The Surrender at Breda"---but they sure do write articles interpreting that piece of paper, or interpreting the role of background objects in the works of Velasquez. Just like a plot-based question on Middlemarch rewards the graduate student working on Eliot (because you will be deeply acquainted with the plot of a book that you are reading criticism on), an art question that focuses on details in the painting rewards people who know the meaning of the painting. Geography, on the other hand, is one of the least "aligned" categories in quizbowl. What we ask has almost nothing to do with what people in the field study. There are, indeed, geography departments at just about every university, and people who are accomplished scholars in the field. Those people study human beings and their interaction with the environment. They don't study lists of bridges over the Parana River. A professor who teaches a class called South American Geography is not likely at all to know the types of clues that we are forced to use in geography questions when the geography quota is expanded beyond what can be filled with more legitimate topics.
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Re: Chicago Open 2009 Discussion

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Sep 09, 2009 10:05 pm

So we can surely write about
Magister Ludi wrote:the geological, cultural, and agricultural importance of a lake in the context of a country
and we ought to avoid
Matt Weiner wrote:lists of bridges over the Parana River.
Those of you with more experience with the older era of the game remember more viscerally bad science than I do (since mostly I just don't study from those packets, though I come across them anyway). Back then, there was more science history, more non-unique clues. more insignifica, and so forth. At some point, we started saying "yeah, it'll take more work, but we should do this right"--we didn't use the fact that people couldn't write good science as easily or quickly as other subjects as an argument for its de-emphasis.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Sep 09, 2009 10:09 pm

Andy, I'm saying that there are always better clues to be found for the quantum Hall effect (perhaps not ad infinitum, but at least such that questions on it today look a lot better than questions on it in 2000). It's quite possible that many geography topics with giveaway clues do not have enough possible clues to write a tossup of more than 3 lines on; see Sao Tome and Principe from the last thread for a handy example. It doesn't matter how much time or effort you put in; there just isn't anything interesting or important to say about the geography of Sao Tome and Principe beyond the last line. I don't think that we can fill 300 tossups and 300 bonuses every year with good geography, because I don't think there are 600 geography answers with good clues. Cutting it to 150/150 would be way more realistic.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Sep 09, 2009 10:17 pm

Well, I don't know if we need 600 unique answers; I think it's fine if there are many questions on French geography because France is pretty important. So you have France, you have Paris, you have Nice, you have Marseille, you have...

But suppose you do need 600 unique answers, and suppose you can't find them--that may well be so. I don't like the idea of a mechanism that puts geography up against trash; I think that 0.5/0.5 should be required. And what's most important, from my perspective, is that we don't accept arguments like "it takes a while to write well and might make CO even later if people don't write CO on a proper schedule for some reason" or "some players don't like it, because I am an example of a player who doesn't like it and other people have posted too," because that's a poor precedent to set.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Matt Weiner » Wed Sep 09, 2009 10:25 pm

Norman the Lunatic wrote:And what's most important, from my perspective, is that we don't accept arguments like "it takes a while to write well and might make CO even later if people don't write CO on a proper schedule for some reason" or "some players don't like it, because I am an example of a player who doesn't like it and other people have posted too," because that's a poor precedent to set.
I'm pointing out the bottom line as to why people who have the luxury of setting their own distribution (that is, are not working within the fixed NAQT or ACF distros) often choose to reduce or omit geography. Again, it would be great if there were no practical concerns and every tournament could contain 20 perfect packets done a month in advance. Since that doesn't happen, I think that the opportunity cost of including geography is one of several factors that should be given some logically determined amount of weight in evaluating what amount of geography to require. It's not the primary factor, but it's not to be completely ignored either.

If we are serious about really finding out what level of geography the ACF audience wants to see, and giving that desire its proper weight in this equation, we will construct and execute a scientific survey. No amount of "this person on a message board says" disproves any amount of "this other person on a message board says" because none of that really means anything to the question of what the 800+ people who played ACF last year collectively want.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Wed Sep 09, 2009 10:33 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:
Norman the Lunatic wrote:And what's most important, from my perspective, is that we don't accept arguments like "it takes a while to write well and might make CO even later if people don't write CO on a proper schedule for some reason" or "some players don't like it, because I am an example of a player who doesn't like it and other people have posted too," because that's a poor precedent to set.
I'm pointing out the bottom line as to why people who have the luxury of setting their own distribution (that is, are not working within the fixed NAQT or ACF distros) often choose to reduce or omit geography. Again, it would be great if there were no practical concerns and every tournament could contain 20 perfect packets done a month in advance. Since that doesn't happen, I think that the opportunity cost of including geography is one of several factors that should be given some logically determined amount of weight in evaluating what amount of geography to require. It's not the primary factor, but it's not to be completely ignored either.
Yeah, that's a fine bottom line--but I think the reason people feel free to reduce or omit geography when they can, but don't for, say, chemistry, is not exclusively because it's harder to write. They are probably, as you say, weighing that difficulty in writing geography against other factors, such as how much vocal people on the board (because generally people writing tournaments for community enjoyment are, in fact, on the boards and care about their board image) will object. I'm uncertain as to whether the controlling factor is really the difficulty (if it's really harder to write 15/15 interesting geography than chemistry, then I'll eat my hat) or if it's essentially a peer pressure game.
Matt Weiner wrote:If we are serious about really finding out what level of geography the ACF audience wants to see, and giving that desire its proper weight in this equation, we will construct and execute a scientific survey. No amount of "this person on a message board says" disproves any amount of "this other person on a message board says" because none of that really means anything to the question of what the 800+ people who played ACF last year collectively want.
This is exactly right and I think that if we're going to weigh how much people like or like writing geography in deciding the distribution, then this is precisely what we must do. That's why I'm opposing people who are making broad statements about how little different people enjoy geography questions without actual data.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by setht » Thu Sep 10, 2009 12:54 am

Norman the Lunatic wrote:I don't like the idea of a mechanism that puts geography up against trash; I think that 0.5/0.5 should be required. And what's most important, from my perspective, is that we don't accept arguments like "it takes a while to write well and might make CO even later if people don't write CO on a proper schedule for some reason" or "some players don't like it, because I am an example of a player who doesn't like it and other people have posted too," because that's a poor precedent to set.
Going in reverse order: I agree that it would be poor precedent to accept one or both of those arguments as sufficient for warranting a change to the distribution. Having said that, I think there are a number of points people have raised that I feel are insufficient to sink the geography frigate on their own but are worth pointing out and considering while trying to reach a consensus on what should be done. I also think there are arguments that have been raised that I do feel are sufficient on their own to reduce geography to an optional category (e.g. within the social science umbrella): in particular, I think asking people to compare geography to math or to other social sciences is an easy way to get people to realize what it means to give geography a guaranteed 0.5/0.5 per round. If a large enough group of people feel that geography does deserve a guaranteed 0.5/0.5 ahead of topics like math, economics, and psychology, I think that will be a satisfactory (from the pro-geography perspective) answer to my line of argument. I'll disagree with that position (unless someone comes up with some really convincing argument for privileging geography over various other categories), but I'd presumably go ahead and vote to keep 0.5/0.5 required in the high-level ACF distribution, since I don't think the other arguments that have been advanced are enough to merit more of a change to geography's place in the distribution without the support of the "does topic X deserve a reserved place in the distribution for high-level tournaments" argument.

Incidentally, do you have any argument for giving over more of the high-level distribution to geography than to economics or psychology or any other social science? It's all right if you don't, I'm just curious.

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Magister Ludi » Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:17 am

setht wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: Last year's ACF distribution called for 1/1 geography in the first 20/20. As far as I can tell, this put it on par with all of American literature, all of physics, all other social sciences, etc. For low-level events I can understand the allure of a question category that more novices are likely to know and to be capable of writing competent questions in.
This bit is Seth's first mistake because he has set up a straw man. It is incorrect (and a little insulting) to reduce the allure of geography questions to the fact that novices are likely to know geography and can write on it. This sentiment assumes that everyone would rather hear another humanities question rather than a geography question. Several players attending CO apparently do enjoy listening to geography questions because just in this thread Brendan Byrne, Mike Cheyne, Andy Watkins, Jeff Hoppes, and myself have said they enjoy hearing geography questions at higher level tournaments.
I'm not sure how you got "Seth thinks that geography questions only appeal to low-level players who don't know better" out of what I wrote there. I obviously know that that's not the case; I've played on national-level teams with Jeff Hoppes and Peter Austin, after all. What I meant is that I think there are arguments for keeping geography as a significant component of the distribution for lower-level events that don't hold for higher-level events. Whether there are other valid arguments for keeping geography as a required part of the distribution for high-level events is a separate issue that I tried to address later in that post. My later argument doesn't hinge on the obviously false assumption that every person at every high-level tournament will always prefer to hear some non-geography question to a geography question. I happen to believe that a large majority of the high-level-tournament-playing population would, in fact, be happier with less than 1 geography question per round, but if I'm wrong about that and we adopt my suggested amendment to the distribution I assume the result would be that we'd have nearly 1 geography question per packet, since lots of teams would opt to write geography for their minor social science question.
In the second half of your post you make a two-pronged claim. First you make the (unsubstantiated) claim that the large majority of upper level tournament would prefer to hear one less geography question per round. Then you move on to argue that this unpopularity therefore merits the reduction of geography. Besides the fact that this popularity argument is a dubious way to change the distribution as Eric pointed out in a previous post, this rationale is different from the standard of "quizbowl appropriateness" and "academic importance" you establish in a later section of your post. Do you actually believe in this popularity argument? If so why didn't you include it in your later standard for changing the distribution?
setht wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: To my mind, the question is: given that high-level teams have lots of non-geography academic knowledge, is there something about geography as a category or academic discipline which means that it merits a mandatory place in the distribution (whether at 1/1 per packet, or 1/0 or 0/1)? For comparison, here are some other categories that don't appear to have a mandatory spot in the old distribution: ancient literature and history, astronomy/astrophysics, computer science, earth science, mathematics, and any particular social science other than geography. I think it's fine that all of these categories don't have mandatory spots in the old distribution. The relative amounts of these categories almost certainly doesn't accurately reflect their relative importance in academia; I think that's also fine.

Now then, is geography more important than math? Or, moving to more closely allied fields, is it more important than earth science? More important than the rest of the social sciences put together? I think not, therefore I think geography shouldn't be getting 1/1 guaranteed per packet at high level tournaments. Focusing on the proposal to require 1/0 or 0/1 geography: is geography more important than psychology, economics, anthropology, and sociology considered separately? Does geography merit getting more than 3 times as many questions per high-level tournament as earth science? Again, I think not.
I thought we had already established that we cannot use a hazy sense of real-world academic importance to determine the distribution. Honestly can anyone justify why there are four times as many questions on history as there are on music in a packet? Why is history objectively four times as important as music? No one can offer a real standard to determine the sub-distribution. So when Seth says things like, "is there something about geography as a category or academic discipline which means that it merits a mandatory place in the distribution" that statement could be applied to every single category because quizbowl does not perfectly reflect academia. There are many academic disciplines which will have no questions asked on them. Once again this argument highlights by point of people fighting against geography who use inconsistent logic. Why do you apply this logic to geography and not to other disciplines? Can Seth or Matt offer a definitive standard about how they decide how many questions an academic discipline merits based on objective importance? I don't think anyone can offer this standard. If there is no standard then we are left to trust Seth or Matt's feel for what the subdistribution should be, which I think we can all agree is not a good way to assess the subdistribution.
I don't think we can justify every detail of the current distribution by arguing solely from real-world academic importance. Having said that, do you have some objection to arguing from real-world academic importance in proposing relatively small shifts in the distribution? Do you have some other suggestion for deciding which changes to the distribution are worthy of discussion and which are not? I assume you're not of the opinion that the current distribution is perfect in all ways and should never be touched; is that a correct assumption?

Jeff already pointed out that there are sensible differences in disciplines; it doesn't make sense to say that any arguments about geography's place in the distribution should apply in an exactly analogous fashion to "humanities" or "Estonian mythology." I think it's reasonable to take the current distribution as a starting point and let people propose areas that they think ought to expand/contract/appear/disappear, then discuss from there. I am not suggesting that all decisions regarding the distribution should be decided solely by me, Matt, or anyone other person, nor am I suggesting that people should trust my feel or Matt's feel or anyone else's feel for what the subdistribution ought to be. Instead, I am suggesting that a large majority popular opinion on academic importance and quizbowl-appropriateness* of categories seems like a reasonable basis for deciding which proposals are acted on. I'm trusting that people will actually make use of some sense of relative academic importance beyond "I do/don't like this particular topic." If you honestly feel that music should expand at the cost of history, or anything like that, I encourage you to bring it up. In the meantime, I'll say that I applied my logic to geography and not to other disciplines because geography is the category that I think has the largest difference in representation vs. relative importance in the distribution. Actually, I did apply my logic a bit to other disciplines: I think social science and RMP are both a bit short-changed at high-level events, and I suggested beefing up one or both of them at the expense of geography.

*I say quizbowl-appropriateness because there are academic disciplines that just don't translate into good quizbowl questions. Perhaps we should also consider prevalence of study among quizbowl players; perhaps we should consider some other factors as well. I'm open to discussion on what factors should influence distribution-related decisions.
I think I've established that I'm a proponent of distributional conservatism and want you to state a definitive standard for changing the distribution rather than the vague appeal to relative academic importance you made in your latest post. In this post you have proposed that changes to the distribution should be brought about by examining the importance and quizbowl appropriateness of a category. I think we've established in recent posts the "quizbowl appropriateness" of geography especially considering the recent comments about good geography clues. As for the second part of Seth's criterion, I think I've stated before that academic importance is too ill-defined to be used as a clearcut standard to justify any exact part of the distribution. Seth, can you explain why geography is inherently less deserving as an academic category than music. According to Dartmouth's Department of Geography, "[Geography] studies the material and symbolic transformation of the earth in relationship to both human and natural processes. . . Theories of space, scale, location, place, region, mobility and displacement allow geographers to critically analyze change in both human and physical environments." Considering that description how is this academic practice less inherently important than music or other categories that have 1/1 reserved for them in the current distribution? I think it is nigh impossible to justify distinct distributional changes through an appeal to academic importance and I wish Seth would stop retreating to it as one of his foundation arguments. For any argument you make based on academic importance I can make just as valid a counter-argument. This constant appeal to academic importance forces the argument to center on unprovable semantics. Essentially Seth's judgment on geography is based on his gut feeling rather than any objective, logical standard. Frankly all of these arguments against geography boil down to someone's gut feeling, and I for one am tentative about handing over the distributions to gut feeling. There has to be some objective standards other than Seth's gut feeling about the relative academic importance of a subject.
setht wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: Teams with no geography knowledge can write on other social sciences if they prefer; teams with geography knowledge can write on geography if they prefer that to writing law questions, or archaeology or linguistics or whatever.
Seriously? Seriously? I cannot believe you wrote this sentence. So now you favor accommodating teams that have no knowledge of a field to have the option of just writing on something completely different. So if my team only has nobody who knows chemistry then they can just skip it, if my team has no one who can write music they can just skip it. This post is yet another instance of the geography critics using inconsistent logic. So because a team has no one that can write geography really well they have the option to skip it, but this option only exists for geography and not other categories.
What a hilarious misreading of my post! Should I go ahead and accuse you of the same silly idea of allowing teams to skip writing chemistry and music questions because you support allowing people to choose whether or not they will write questions on Beethoven or on Sikhism? As Jeff said before, not all categories are equal--for instance, using just the text you quoted, it should be clear that "this option" (of not writing on a topic) does not only exist for geography--it also exists for archaeology and linguistics and law questions. That's a reality of quizbowl: not every possible named category (or even just every named category typically associated with an independent department at a university, so we don't need to deal with stuff like "Estonian mythology") can have a part of the distribution reserved for it.

From what you wrote it sounds like you feel geography is on par with chemistry and music in terms of relative importance. From what I wrote before, it should be clear that I disagree with that evaluation, and that I rank geography approximately equally with various social sciences. Given my evaluation, is there really anything so unbelievable about my proposals? Is my evaluation unbelievable?
My post was trying to point out the inconsistency of your logic. Let me try to explain my rationale more clearly now that I've recovered from the initial shock of reading this bit for the first time. You argued that if geography was grouped with other social sciences this would be beneficial because people who did not feel they could write good geography questions could opt out and write on something they feel more comfortable writing. The reason I think the rationale of this post displays inconsistent logic is because one could just as easily apply this argument for the reduction of chemistry. I could say we should group science as a loose 4/4 where someone can write 2/2 misc science rather than chemistry if they felt more comfortable writing misc science. Or one could use this argument for writing 2/2 misc arts at the expense of 1/1 music. I want to point out that you invoke this desire to promote ease of writing SS questions but don't feel the need to apply this same standard to science because your "gut feeling" about chemistry's relative academic importance merits that it should be given 1/1 per packet. To respond to your question of whether I think geography is on par with chem and music in terms of relative importance, I would say that I don't want to start arguing about relative academic importance because it is impossible to define and is not how I want to evaluate the distribution.
setht wrote: Ted, you've criticized anti-geography arguments of the forms "many people don't enjoy these questions" and "many people don't think this category is academically more important than certain other categories." As far as I can tell, your arguments in favor of keeping geography as a required part of the distribution are pretty much "some people do enjoy these questions," "some people do think this category is academically important relative to other categories," and "geography has been part of the distribution since the Stone Age."
This bit shows a clear misunderstanding of my position. As you will notice I have very deliberately put forward no arguments for geography's inclusion in the canon, but simply have responded to the misguided arguments put put forward by opponents of geography. I am not so much a proponent of geography as a critic of the anti-geography partisans.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Mettius Fufetius » Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:22 am

I suppose I, personally, value geography because I see it as a necessary substrate for understanding history; in most every college-level history course I've taken, you're sunk if you do not know where things are at. I've always assumed it's a similarly important substrate for fields as diverse as anthropology, earth science and zoology, but I have had few to no classes in those fields and so cannot say for sure.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Magister Ludi » Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:27 am

Matt Weiner wrote:Ted, this is exactly what I mean when I refer to the distinction between a question rewarding advanced study and a question being composed of advanced study (e.g. in this post). Serious scholars of art history don't write articles called "I found a piece of paper in the corner of The Surrender at Breda"---but they sure do write articles interpreting that piece of paper, or interpreting the role of background objects in the works of Velasquez. Just like a plot-based question on Middlemarch rewards the graduate student working on Eliot (because you will be deeply acquainted with the plot of a book that you are reading criticism on), an art question that focuses on details in the painting rewards people who know the meaning of the painting. Geography, on the other hand, is one of the least "aligned" categories in quizbowl. What we ask has almost nothing to do with what people in the field study. There are, indeed, geography departments at just about every university, and people who are accomplished scholars in the field. Those people study human beings and their interaction with the environment. They don't study lists of bridges over the Parana River. A professor who teaches a class called South American Geography is not likely at all to know the types of clues that we are forced to use in geography questions when the geography quota is expanded beyond what can be filled with more legitimate topics.
First of all I agree with Jonathan that we need to bring geography questions at upper level tournaments more in line with the areas studied academically by geography students. I think I outlined this idea in my response to Eric, but I'll outline it again. Just like a art history student might be able to buzz on a detail from a painting because they studied its symbolism it is very likely that a geography student might be able to buzz on the name of a lake because they learned about the agricultural impact that lake has in the given country. I also disagree with your theory that expanding geography will somehow exhaust all the possible clues, because frankly the current clue canon for geography is anything but exhausted as we have barely begun to scratch the surface of possible geography clues.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Sep 10, 2009 8:36 am

Ted, to reiterate, the issues with geography are these:
The first argument that at least I have against the prevalence of geography as it's asked now is that it doesn't conform to the academic pursuit of geography to a suitable extent, which is a standard I can and do apply to all other questions. That's what I hear Seth saying, too. In fact, you yourself say this to a great extent when you say:
Magister Ludi wrote:...we need to bring geography questions at upper level tournaments more in line with the areas studied academically by geography students.
That you say this after making such claims as:
Magister Ludi wrote:...appeal to academic importance forces the argument to center on unprovable semantics
and:
Magister Ludi wrote:...judgment [of purported academic importance art] based on... gut feeling rather than any objective, logical standard
leads me to wonder how you can make such a statement to begin with. After all, isn't it just your "gut feeling" that geography as asked now isn't sufficiently academic? What about all the "question form conservatives" out there who would say you can't justify changing how questions are asked based on Ted Gioia's "gut feelings?"
But, of course, I'm advocating for the devil here: inevitably, all judgments about the content and form of questions are made on what you would call a "gut feeling," or something even less rigorous than that. In fact, the same is true about all decisions about the distribution, including those that established it at what it currently is, and hasn't always or even often been. Why you pretend otherwise regarding any of those things is beyond me, so all I'll say is: stop.

The second argument that at least I have against the prevalence of geography as it's asked now is that I don't like it: it doesn't interest me, I don't learn anything meaningful from it, etc. I'd prefer to hear less of it, I'd be comfortable hearing none of it, and I feel it's more prevalent than it ought to be, given the prevalence of other topics and the extent to which geographical knowledge is useful in other types of questions. My judgment is that a large fraction of players feel the same way. Again, this is a standard that I can an do apply to all other questions.
You could argue and have argued that my judgment is unsubstantiated; I'd argue otherwise, but there's clearly not much use in that as it seems clear the issue is that your notion of "substantiated" is different from my own. Therefore, what is true is this: my judgment is at least as substantiated as any other possible right now or in the immediate past, including those that guided the formation of the current distribution a couple years ago.

My questions to you are these: suppose we have a topic that is unacademic as compared with other topics and that is unpopular in the terms I've stated (found uninteresting and non-educational by a majority of players, who would not miss it were it to go and have other things they would prefer to hear,) i.e. accept my premises for a moment. Are we then justified in demanding or even considering its removal from a distribution? If not, under what circumstances can any distribution ever be changed? I'll note that the second is a question you were already as much as asked but didn't answer, beyond making the vague claim of being an "exponent of distributional conservatism."

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Sep 10, 2009 10:12 am

I'm not a big fan of Burkeian distributional conservativism as a justification. I just object to the idea that geography doesn't have a sufficient amount of conformance with academic pursuits to merit inclusion in qb. I'd again object that you can't just look at whether thing X (let's say Lake Chad) is "studied" - yes, there are probably relatively few identifiable academic discussions of Lake Chad and its features, per se.

But you have to look at whether the answers and clues stand in for a subject that does have some merit - just mentioning a river might not seem like it has academic significance. But, it might - because knowing of the existence of said river might relate or have value to studies in history, anthro, earth sci, and so on - if it's actually an important river. A question doesn't have to spell out the reasons or make it abundantly clear why something is important, as long as there is a traceable connection.

More generally, I think people keep trying to jam the square peg that is quizbowl into the round hole that is "academic study", and you're always going to get amorphous results. There's just a difference between "knowing stuff that has relevance to academic study" and "actually engaging in academic study". Maybe this is an oversimplification, but I think it leads to a lot of the cognative dissonance around here.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Sep 10, 2009 10:28 am

I'll probably have more on this later, but geography should go in the social science distribution because geography, as it is actually practiced at any level other than the US Geography Bee, is a social science. I don't know how you can look at what any academic study of geography entails and conclude otherwise. Geography as an academic discipline is very little about memorizing tributaries and mountains, and that's the majority of what gets written as geography questions today. Unlike Matt, I'm not especially pessimistic about the possibility of an improved geography canon, but relative to other disciplines 1/1 geography is an over-representation, especially given that virtually every other area of coverage in quizbowl has people who actually study that thing, whereas the current audience for geography questions seems to be mostly people who participated in the aforementioned Bee. I'm all for what I see as Seth's compromise position: reclassify geography as a social science, limit it to 1/0 or 0/1 within that distribution, and reform the writing practice of that subject matter in such a way that it represents some kind of academic relevance.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by setht » Thu Sep 10, 2009 11:41 am

Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote:
Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: Last year's ACF distribution called for 1/1 geography in the first 20/20. As far as I can tell, this put it on par with all of American literature, all of physics, all other social sciences, etc. For low-level events I can understand the allure of a question category that more novices are likely to know and to be capable of writing competent questions in.
This bit is Seth's first mistake because he has set up a straw man. It is incorrect (and a little insulting) to reduce the allure of geography questions to the fact that novices are likely to know geography and can write on it. This sentiment assumes that everyone would rather hear another humanities question rather than a geography question. Several players attending CO apparently do enjoy listening to geography questions because just in this thread Brendan Byrne, Mike Cheyne, Andy Watkins, Jeff Hoppes, and myself have said they enjoy hearing geography questions at higher level tournaments.
I'm not sure how you got "Seth thinks that geography questions only appeal to low-level players who don't know better" out of what I wrote there. I obviously know that that's not the case; I've played on national-level teams with Jeff Hoppes and Peter Austin, after all. What I meant is that I think there are arguments for keeping geography as a significant component of the distribution for lower-level events that don't hold for higher-level events. Whether there are other valid arguments for keeping geography as a required part of the distribution for high-level events is a separate issue that I tried to address later in that post. My later argument doesn't hinge on the obviously false assumption that every person at every high-level tournament will always prefer to hear some non-geography question to a geography question. I happen to believe that a large majority of the high-level-tournament-playing population would, in fact, be happier with less than 1 geography question per round, but if I'm wrong about that and we adopt my suggested amendment to the distribution I assume the result would be that we'd have nearly 1 geography question per packet, since lots of teams would opt to write geography for their minor social science question.
In the second half of your post you make a two-pronged claim. First you make the (unsubstantiated) claim that the large majority of upper level tournament would prefer to hear one less geography question per round. Then you move on to argue that this unpopularity therefore merits the reduction of geography. Besides the fact that this popularity argument is a dubious way to change the distribution as Eric pointed out in a previous post, this rationale is different from the standard of "quizbowl appropriateness" and "academic importance" you establish in a later section of your post. Do you actually believe in this popularity argument? If so why didn't you include it in your later standard for changing the distribution?
You're right, I did put forward an unsubstantiated claim; I noted that it was unsubstantiated at the time. I don't see anywhere where I "move[d] on to argue that this unpopularity therefore merits the reduction of geography"--unless you're interpreting my suggestion of using "a large majority popular opinion on academic importance and quizbowl-appropriateness of categories" as a logical continuation of my unpopularity comment. It's not: my unsubstantiated claim is that lots of people at high-level tournaments would be happier with less than 1 geography question per round. My proposal is that we poll people on their sense of the academic importance of geography. I assume there's some correlation between people's interest in hearing a question and their rating of its academic importance, but as one example of a discrepancy between the two I'll cite Charlie Dees, who says he doesn't enjoy hearing science questions but would presumably not claim that science's academic importance is low enough to merit a reduction in its part of the distribution. I didn't include basic popularity of geography (as opposed to perceived academic importance) in my standard because I think we're more likely to get honest, thoughtful evaluations from people if we ask about the latter, and I think academic merit trumps popularity when it comes to determining the distribution for high-level academic tournaments. I do think popularity should be given some weight, but if that's the only thing against geography (e.g., if lots of people believe its academic merit is such that it does deserve a reserved spot in the distribution) then I don't think that's enough by itself to merit a large change. Does that make sense?

Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote:I don't think we can justify every detail of the current distribution by arguing solely from real-world academic importance. Having said that, do you have some objection to arguing from real-world academic importance in proposing relatively small shifts in the distribution? Do you have some other suggestion for deciding which changes to the distribution are worthy of discussion and which are not? I assume you're not of the opinion that the current distribution is perfect in all ways and should never be touched; is that a correct assumption?

Jeff already pointed out that there are sensible differences in disciplines; it doesn't make sense to say that any arguments about geography's place in the distribution should apply in an exactly analogous fashion to "humanities" or "Estonian mythology." I think it's reasonable to take the current distribution as a starting point and let people propose areas that they think ought to expand/contract/appear/disappear, then discuss from there. I am not suggesting that all decisions regarding the distribution should be decided solely by me, Matt, or anyone other person, nor am I suggesting that people should trust my feel or Matt's feel or anyone else's feel for what the subdistribution ought to be. Instead, I am suggesting that a large majority popular opinion on academic importance and quizbowl-appropriateness* of categories seems like a reasonable basis for deciding which proposals are acted on. I'm trusting that people will actually make use of some sense of relative academic importance beyond "I do/don't like this particular topic." If you honestly feel that music should expand at the cost of history, or anything like that, I encourage you to bring it up. In the meantime, I'll say that I applied my logic to geography and not to other disciplines because geography is the category that I think has the largest difference in representation vs. relative importance in the distribution. Actually, I did apply my logic a bit to other disciplines: I think social science and RMP are both a bit short-changed at high-level events, and I suggested beefing up one or both of them at the expense of geography.

*I say quizbowl-appropriateness because there are academic disciplines that just don't translate into good quizbowl questions. Perhaps we should also consider prevalence of study among quizbowl players; perhaps we should consider some other factors as well. I'm open to discussion on what factors should influence distribution-related decisions.
I think I've established that I'm a proponent of distributional conservatism and want you to state a definitive standard for changing the distribution rather than the vague appeal to relative academic importance you made in your latest post. In this post you have proposed that changes to the distribution should be brought about by examining the importance and quizbowl appropriateness of a category. I think we've established in recent posts the "quizbowl appropriateness" of geography especially considering the recent comments about good geography clues. As for the second part of Seth's criterion, I think I've stated before that academic importance is too ill-defined to be used as a clearcut standard to justify any exact part of the distribution. Seth, can you explain why geography is inherently less deserving as an academic category than music. According to Dartmouth's Department of Geography, "[Geography] studies the material and symbolic transformation of the earth in relationship to both human and natural processes. . . Theories of space, scale, location, place, region, mobility and displacement allow geographers to critically analyze change in both human and physical environments." Considering that description how is this academic practice less inherently important than music or other categories that have 1/1 reserved for them in the current distribution? I think it is nigh impossible to justify distinct distributional changes through an appeal to academic importance and I wish Seth would stop retreating to it as one of his foundation arguments. For any argument you make based on academic importance I can make just as valid a counter-argument. This constant appeal to academic importance forces the argument to center on unprovable semantics. Essentially Seth's judgment on geography is based on his gut feeling rather than any objective, logical standard. Frankly all of these arguments against geography boil down to someone's gut feeling, and I for one am tentative about handing over the distributions to gut feeling. There has to be some objective standards other than Seth's gut feeling about the relative academic importance of a subject.
You certainly have established your distributional conservative bona fides with me. I'm just sorry you weren't up in arms about this stuff as recently as June 2008, when geography jumped up to 1/1 required in the first 20/20; prior to that it seems to me that geography didn't have a fixed spot in the distribution, with some tournaments requiring 1/1 geography, some tournaments lumping it into a 2/2 SS/geography category, and some tournaments lumping it into a 2/2 your choice category. I don't think any of these tournaments made any promises about how much geography was going to appear in the first 20/20.

Ted, I agree that evaluating relative academic importance is tricky and almost certainly doomed to being a subjective measure. It so happens that I don't have an argument on hand for why geography is inherently less important than music, but I think that has more to do with my relative ignorance of music than with the impossibility of finding such an argument. If you asked me to compare geography and physics, or geography and chemistry, I'd be much better equipped to respond. As an aside, Ted's quote from the Dartmouth department of geography reminded me that I wanted to point out that we're not talking about the worth/academic merit/whatever of geography as it's studied in the academy: we're talking about a somewhat specialized subset of academic geography, since we're apparently throwing out the entirety of physical geography (presumably because we already have an earth science category which could cover the material that appears in physical geography classes). Perhaps I'm wrong about that: Ted, if geography gets 1 question required per round and I write a question on paleoclimatology are you going to be cool with that? Assuming I'm not wrong about that and we are, in effect, ignoring large swathes of the geography curriculum, it seems to me that that could be the basis for an argument that "quizbowl geography" is less academically important than "quizbowl music" or various other categories where we don't exclude large swathes of the academic curriculum.

Moving off that, I would like to join Mike Sorice in asking Ted to give an example an objective standard for changing the distribution that he finds acceptable. I can understand if Ted is content with the 2008-2009 distribution and doesn't want to see it change, but if he can't think of an acceptable procedure for making a change to the distribution then I'm prepared to write him off as a vote against any change in the distribution and concentrate my efforts on convincing other people that a change should be made.

Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote:What a hilarious misreading of my post! Should I go ahead and accuse you of the same silly idea of allowing teams to skip writing chemistry and music questions because you support allowing people to choose whether or not they will write questions on Beethoven or on Sikhism? As Jeff said before, not all categories are equal--for instance, using just the text you quoted, it should be clear that "this option" (of not writing on a topic) does not only exist for geography--it also exists for archaeology and linguistics and law questions. That's a reality of quizbowl: not every possible named category (or even just every named category typically associated with an independent department at a university, so we don't need to deal with stuff like "Estonian mythology") can have a part of the distribution reserved for it.

From what you wrote it sounds like you feel geography is on par with chemistry and music in terms of relative importance. From what I wrote before, it should be clear that I disagree with that evaluation, and that I rank geography approximately equally with various social sciences. Given my evaluation, is there really anything so unbelievable about my proposals? Is my evaluation unbelievable?
My post was trying to point out the inconsistency of your logic. Let me try to explain my rationale more clearly now that I've recovered from the initial shock of reading this bit for the first time. You argued that if geography was grouped with other social sciences this would be beneficial because people who did not feel they could write good geography questions could opt out and write on something they feel more comfortable writing. The reason I think the rationale of this post displays inconsistent logic is because one could just as easily apply this argument for the reduction of chemistry. I could say we should group science as a loose 4/4 where someone can write 2/2 misc science rather than chemistry if they felt more comfortable writing misc science. Or one could use this argument for writing 2/2 misc arts at the expense of 1/1 music. I want to point out that you invoke this desire to promote ease of writing SS questions but don't feel the need to apply this same standard to science because your "gut feeling" about chemistry's relative academic importance merits that it should be given 1/1 per packet. To respond to your question of whether I think geography is on par with chem and music in terms of relative importance, I would say that I don't want to start arguing about relative academic importance because it is impossible to define and is not how I want to evaluate the distribution.
Okay, if you reduce what I said to "we should lump geography in with social science for the convenience of people who don't like writing geography" then you are correct in saying the same logic could be applied to chemistry in the context of the science distribution. If instead you consider the context of the post in which I advocated putting geography and social science together, I think it should be clear that since I don't feel geography is more important than economics or psychology or sociology or anthropology, and since geography is in fact commonly classified as a social science, I see no problem with lumping it in with social science and then giving people the option of not writing any geography, as we currently do with economics or psychology or sociology or anthropology. Now, try to apply this to chemistry: it's a science, so it's fine to lump it in with the other sciences. Does chemistry deserve a reserved spot in the science distribution ahead of astronomy/astrophysics, computer science, earth science, and mathematics? I would argue that it does: in my experience chemistry is a "foundational science," directly relevant to several areas of astronomy/astrophysics and earth science. Good luck getting anywhere with understanding the Earth's atmosphere, stellar atmospheres, mineralogy, the ISM, and a host of other topics without referring to chemistry. Outside my experience, it seems clear that chemistry is also central to understanding a good deal of biology. At the same time, there is plenty of "pure chemistry" that doesn't refer to astrochemistry or geochemistry or biochemistry (just as there's plenty of physics outside of astrophysics or geophysics or biophysics). I think there are more indicators of chemistry's academic importance (e.g. "chemical engineering is an important and closely allied discipline" or "some universities have independent colleges of chemistry, suggesting that chemistry is considered more important than various subjects that only appear at the department level"), but let's leave that aside and just focus on evidence from course material. I think the analogous statements for geography would be something on the order of "geography is centrally important to understanding large swathes of economics, psychology, anthropology, and sociology, but there's plenty of pure geography that doesn't refer to those disciplines, therefore geography deserves a privileged position within the social sciences." I'll admit that I don't have much direct experience with social science courses; my experience is limited to two psychology classes, neither of which made any reference to geography. My suspicion is that economics and psychology are almost entirely independent of geography, that sociology may be largely independent of geography, and that anthropology is more closely allied with geography than most other social sciences. I also suspect that academic geography is largely dependent on other social sciences (and earth science, in the case of physical geography). If someone with more experience of taking geography and social science classes wants to weigh in on this I'd be interested in hearing what they have to say.

Moving on to your final sentence: Ted, how do you want to evaluate the distribution?

Magister Ludi wrote:
setht wrote: Ted, you've criticized anti-geography arguments of the forms "many people don't enjoy these questions" and "many people don't think this category is academically more important than certain other categories." As far as I can tell, your arguments in favor of keeping geography as a required part of the distribution are pretty much "some people do enjoy these questions," "some people do think this category is academically important relative to other categories," and "geography has been part of the distribution since the Stone Age."
This bit shows a clear misunderstanding of my position. As you will notice I have very deliberately put forward no arguments for geography's inclusion in the canon, but simply have responded to the misguided arguments put put forward by opponents of geography. I am not so much a proponent of geography as a critic of the anti-geography partisans.
Fair enough, and my apologies for assuming that your impassioned defense must arise from a love for geography questions. I'm not (yet) convinced that every argument put forward by myself and my fellow anti-geography partisans is misguided. Can you put forward an argument that you would find acceptable for making some change to the current distribution? I don't care whether it refers to geography, or whether your argument advocates an increase or a decrease; I just want to see what sort of argument you're prepared to accept for changing the distribution.

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by naturalistic phallacy » Thu Sep 10, 2009 11:46 am

grapesmoker wrote:I'll probably have more on this later, but geography should go in the social science distribution because geography, as it is actually practiced at any level other than the US Geography Bee, is a social science. I don't know how you can look at what any academic study of geography entails and conclude otherwise. Geography as an academic discipline is very little about memorizing tributaries and mountains, and that's the majority of what gets written as geography questions today. Unlike Matt, I'm not especially pessimistic about the possibility of an improved geography canon, but relative to other disciplines 1/1 geography is an over-representation, especially given that virtually every other area of coverage in quizbowl has people who actually study that thing, whereas the current audience for geography questions seems to be mostly people who participated in the aforementioned Bee. I'm all for what I see as Seth's compromise position: reclassify geography as a social science, limit it to 1/0 or 0/1 within that distribution, and reform the writing practice of that subject matter in such a way that it represents some kind of academic relevance.
If we must have geography, then this is the best proposal. It's also a good way to look into increasing the social science distribution to 2/2.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by setht » Thu Sep 10, 2009 11:49 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:I'm not a big fan of Burkeian distributional conservativism as a justification. I just object to the idea that geography doesn't have a sufficient amount of conformance with academic pursuits to merit inclusion in qb.
I'm not arguing that geography in quizbowl is so far off from academic pursuits that it should be banned from quizbowl: I'm not arguing for banning geography at any level, and I'm not arguing anything regarding the amount of geography in low-level quizbowl. I am arguing that geography merits approximately the same level of inclusion in high-level qb that economics, psychology, and other social sciences do.

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by MiltonPlayer47 » Thu Sep 10, 2009 11:53 am

I'm not a very frequent poster. But as a Geography major, I would like to weigh in.

First, I enjoy "almanac" clues. At the same time, I can understand why people don't like them. And the truth is, if you're going to study Geography in school, that is not the information you will be expected to know. Outside of a 1000 level World Geography class, you don't have quizzes or tests where you have to locate a country, city, river, mountain, etc on a map. Those are underlying themes that you are expected to have a grasp of before you take upper level classes. This might be a bad analogy, but having almanac clues and calling them "Geography" might be the same as having questions that are essentially computer literacy and calling them "computer science."

As far as my school schedule, I have had to take a couple of Climatology and Human Geography classes, but most of what I take is Cartography or GIS. With Human Geography, there's not much you can write a quiz bowl question on. Cartography is a science, but I don't think there is a whole lot there that would make a great toss up. I have seen questions on the four color theorem, but I am guessing that was part of the science distribution. Climatology is a minor science category, and there are a lot of good topics there to write questions on. There are also upper level Physical Geography classes where I think you learn some of what you would see in an Earth Science question, but that is not my focus.

I am wondering if Geography could be put into the Science distribution as a minor category. Or, you could argue that true Geography is already part of the quiz bowl canon by being a minor science category with Climatology, Earth Science, and a little bit of Cartography. I doubt anybody is going to like the idea of putting those hated almanac questions into the Science distribution, but I still thought I would throw that out there.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Sep 10, 2009 12:21 pm

Trying to make qb geography look more like what's actually studied in geography curriculums is a fool's errand (though, I'm pretty uniformly against trying to make qb questions "look like" actual academic study, in general). It's better to think of qb geography as providing a base for what you study - in order to study climate patterns in the Atlas Mountains, you need to know that said mountains exist and it's helpful to know some stuff about them. Likewise, if you're studying tribes in northern Africa or the history of northern Africa, it's helpful to know those kinds of things. It's not mandatory - I'm sure you could do a bangup study on those things and not concern yourself too much with memorizing the underlying place names, but a big part of what qb is all about is knowing those underlying named things.

To Steven, I'd add that there's always room for inventive earth science questions - but good luck, it's tough to do. I tried to write a tossup on "climate" last year for Nats, and my feeling is that people weren't too enthralled - perhaps because it was a little too inventive, since there aren't a ton of canonical clues to use to make the tu as pyramidal as you'd like. And that's what happens when you go off the map and try to write on rarely-introduced disciplines and subjects, so it requires some care.

Also, to Seth, yeah - I have no problem with your arguments in this thread. I also have no problem with people just saying they find geography uninteresting. I was just responding to the forced arguments about academic merit.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:23 pm

Humorously, just yesterday I took a quiz for my International Relations class where I had to identify 12 Asian countries on a map. I'm not sure what that says, if anything.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by cvdwightw » Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:42 pm

Nothing in the entire game of quizbowl easily approximates that which is studied academically (perhaps, to a certain degree, science does, but I think that's the nature of how science is presented at the university level more than anything else). Quizbowl does not test what you have studied. Quizbowl tests the background knowledge needed for one to be competent in studying something.

Does geography as it is written approximate academic study of geography? Only if you're in sixth grade social studies. Does geography as it is written test background knowledge needed for studying something academically? I would sure hope so; as Ryan says, there are a number of fields in which knowing the geography of an area is crucial to studying something about that area. I would sure hope someone studying slash-and-burn strategies in the Amazon Rain Forest knows the names of the countries in that area, relevant tributaries of the Amazon, native tribes and populous cities in the specific region of study, etc., even though the researcher would actually study none of those things.

Based on arguments I've seen in other threads, high-level tournaments contain a bunch of named science things that aren't actually studied by scientists and that no one cares about, authors and their works that come up significantly more than their actual "academic" importance, artists (especially musicians) that may or may not have little significance, and a bunch of named mythological things that are unimportant except for the fact that they are named. The response to all of these things is "Focus on the stuff that's actually important and stop writing on unimportant crap within those distributions." High-level tournaments apparently also contain geography questions on named things that only a few people care about and have little "academic" importance. The response to this is "Stop writing geography." I'm not sure where the dichotomy arises, but I'd sure like someone to point that out.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Thu Sep 10, 2009 1:51 pm

cvdwightw wrote:I'm not sure where the dichotomy arises, but I'd sure like someone to point that out.
I think I proposed upthread that because there's a general sense that geography doesn't have a ton of vocal support on the boards (which is possibly a function of the fact that it used to be vastly overrepresented in NAQT, a condition that's been much improved over time), so it's less uncomfortable to propose the solution of "eliminate" when it comes to geography.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by millionwaves » Thu Sep 10, 2009 2:57 pm

setht wrote: I am arguing that geography merits approximately the same level of inclusion in high-level qb that economics, psychology, and other social sciences do.

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by setht » Thu Sep 10, 2009 3:09 pm

cvdwightw wrote:Based on arguments I've seen in other threads, high-level tournaments contain a bunch of named science things that aren't actually studied by scientists and that no one cares about, authors and their works that come up significantly more than their actual "academic" importance, artists (especially musicians) that may or may not have little significance, and a bunch of named mythological things that are unimportant except for the fact that they are named. The response to all of these things is "Focus on the stuff that's actually important and stop writing on unimportant crap within those distributions." High-level tournaments apparently also contain geography questions on named things that only a few people care about and have little "academic" importance. The response to this is "Stop writing geography." I'm not sure where the dichotomy arises, but I'd sure like someone to point that out.
My arguments for reducing geography's place in the distribution for high-level events are not actually based on whether people have been doing a good job of writing quality geography questions--my response to reports of crappy geography questions would, in fact, be "write better geography questions." My arguing that geography shouldn't be given 1 question per round at high level events is a response to my evaluation that geography doesn't deserve a greater share of the distribution than various other categories that currently aren't getting 1 question per round (coupled with my evaluation that the appropriate response is to reduce geography, rather than trying to increase the representation of all those other categories and winding up with comically oversized packets). I don't see a dichotomy there; do you?

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Sep 10, 2009 4:14 pm

One more thing: I also think it's reasonable to argue for a reduction (not elimination) of pure geography on the grounds that questions in other subjects often obliquely require knowledge of geography. Lots of history questions, for example, can be gotten through what essentially is geography knowledge - if you've ever watched Charles Meigs play, you know that. Religion is kind of similar - I've argued for reductions in mandatory religion tossups on the ground that religion sneaks its way into lots of other categories as well.

It's just another factor to consider in this discussion.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by cvdwightw » Thu Sep 10, 2009 5:03 pm

setht wrote:My arguing that geography shouldn't be given 1 question per round at high level events is a response to my evaluation that geography doesn't deserve a greater share of the distribution than various other categories that currently aren't getting 1 question per round (coupled with my evaluation that the appropriate response is to reduce geography, rather than trying to increase the representation of all those other categories and winding up with comically oversized packets). I don't see a dichotomy there; do you?
I don't necessarily see a dichotomy in your arguments. Where I do see the dichotomy is in anti-geography arguments that "geography is difficult to write well, and few people write it well, so we should do away with it;" "geography at higher-level events should be mostly eliminated, and replaced by a question on something people actually study;" and "we should just lump geography in with other social sciences because that way, people who want to write on it can do so and people who don't want to write on it don't have to waste their time."

In the first argument, we're essentially saying that editing teams with poor science writers should find a competent science person, editing teams with poor philosophy writers should find someone good at philosophy, etc., but if an editing/writing team can't write geography, then it's perfectly acceptable for the team to just replace the category with something they can write well.

In the second argument, we're essentially saying that people are writing on ridiculous non-geography things for high-level tournaments and it's not the distribution's fault, but if people are writing on ridiculous geography things for high-level tournaments, then it must be the distribution's fault.

In the third argument, we're essentially saying that we should relegate geography to an optional category because lots of people don't want to write geography, but lots of people don't want to write chemistry or music or whatever and they still have to do it.

Briefly reading upthread, it appears that Ted has already noted the logical inconsistencies in at least the third argument and possibly the first two as well. What I am trying to figure out is where this idea that geography is somehow "special" and the rules that govern other categories don't apply to it.

The third argument I can almost see coming from your argument that geography is as important as, e.g., psychology or CS. But the problem is that, to my knowledge, none of those categories have ever been required. As it stands right now, geography is a required part of the distribution. To reduce geography to an optional category simply because people don't like to write it gives us precedent to do the same thing with other categories that may be more "academically relevant." 'You can argue that at this point there is essentially 0/0 Current Events in most tournaments and it used to be required; however, there are much more compelling arguments for not writing Current Events than "people don't like writing Current Events." I have no problem excising geography, but it shouldn't be downgraded just because people don't want to write it.

The second argument has absolutely nothing to do with geography's academic relevance. It is a simple observation that people tend to use unanswered or poor questions in certain categories as support for the need to change the distribution; however, if questions in other categories are poor or go unanswered, they're just poor questions/answer choices and do not reflect a need for distributional change. Whether or not you yourself make that claim, it is difficult if not impossible for you to deny that such claims have been made in the past; if not for geography, then certainly for "crap" in NAQT's distribution (OMG we need less trash because there are stupid questions in the trash distribution).

The first argument is what I find most dangerous, because it seems to be literally the reason that geography has been disappearing from high-level events. People now find it perfectly acceptable to mask their inability to write geography by just not putting it in the final set. You appear to argue that geography should be on the same footing as individual social science and minor science subjects. We would be seeing an outcry (and indeed have seen such outcries) if computer science or earth science is not "adequately represented" in the packet set (either in quantity or quality of questions, or both), even if no editor on the editing team can do competent work in that category. Regardless of whether o-chem should be reduced (it should), several vocal board members would be up in arms if there was 4/4 o-chem in an entire tournament. Why is it okay for editors to get a free pass on nearly wholesale tossing geography, when doing the same thing to a category that you yourself claim should be held to the same standard will be (and has been) met with vocal complaints?

I'm in much the same position as Ted here. I don't necessarily enjoy geography questions (although it suffices to say that a full Irvine team is much less likely to show at events where geography is absent), and I wouldn't characterize myself as pro-geography, but if we're going to make a distributional change we better have a good reason why instead of a bunch of double-standard arguments from the anti-geography crowd. The first step in doing so is to figure out where this double standard for geography comes from, so that we can isolate and banish the ridiculous arguments and focus on debating the ones that hold water.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Sep 10, 2009 5:16 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:...you have to look at whether the answers and clues stand in for a subject that does have some merit -
This is precisely what I already did. Geography fails my test by this standard. That is, the information useful in getting geography questions largely isn't
No Rules Westbrook wrote:"...stuff that has relevance to academic study"
,
much less anything indicative of
No Rules Westbrook wrote:"actually engaging in academic study"
but rather quite otherwise. That's poor and should be changed.
I'll also note that you have left open a major question in this argument (and, really, every argument you've made pretty much ever.) You constantly denigrate the idea of the external metric of the academic character of some information. You also constantly appeal to "merit." However, you repeatedly define "merit" as essentially "what makes for good quizbowl in my view," which is a set of postulates almost Kantian in its circularity. I say that without some kind of external referent, you cannot define merit in any useful way; I say further that the only external referent that makes any sense is the academy.

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Theory Of The Leisure Flask » Thu Sep 10, 2009 5:38 pm

cvdwightw wrote: "we should just lump geography in with other social sciences because that way, people who want to write on it can do so and people who don't want to write on it don't have to waste their time."

...

In the third argument, we're essentially saying that we should relegate geography to an optional category because lots of people don't want to write geography, but lots of people don't want to write chemistry or music or whatever and they still have to do it.
This is, I feel, a huge mischaracterization of the pro-lump position. Most of us advocating for lumping geography (certainly Seth and I, at least) in with social science are not simply arguing that people shouldn't have to write what they don't want to, and in fact aren't using that argument at all. Instead, we believe that geography simply is a social science, and deserves a level playing field with other major social sciences like econ, soc/anth, and psych.
No Rules Westbrook wrote:Religion is kind of similar - I've argued for reductions in mandatory religion tossups on the ground that religion sneaks its way into lots of other categories as well.
This is a bit of a tangent, but this argument works just as well for mythology, which has all sorts of crossover with categories such as literature and fine arts. If we're dinking religion, we should dink myth too.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Sep 10, 2009 6:47 pm

cvdwightw wrote:The third argument I can almost see coming from your argument that geography is as important as, e.g., psychology or CS. But the problem is that, to my knowledge, none of those categories have ever been required. As it stands right now, geography is a required part of the distribution. To reduce geography to an optional category simply because people don't like to write it gives us precedent to do the same thing with other categories that may be more "academically relevant."
The whole point of this debate is to call into question whether geography should be required or not, something that has not always been the case.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu Sep 10, 2009 6:58 pm

Nah, knowledge of myth tends to help you on few questions in modern ACF outside of "mythology", and there isn't a ton of seepage of the stuff that comes up in myth questions into other questions. Sure, I suppose paintings and literary works often feature mythological characters and references, but it's nigh impossible to get most of these questions on myth knowledge. Now, if you're thinking like NAQT and you'd classify the Popol Vuh or Enuma Elish as literature, then okay - but mACF writing doesn't really do that.

On the other hand, knowledge of "religion," in general, can really help you with that Council of Chalcedon or Essence of Christianity tossup.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Cheynem » Thu Sep 10, 2009 7:08 pm

Yeah, Religion is such a bastard category because a lot of the stuff you can write there can really be placed elsewhere. As Ryan suggested, church history stuff is generally placed in the History part of the distribution. Some religions and mythological systems get pretty mixed together in the distro (Shintoism and Hinduism, for whatever reason, tend to be the major players here). Religion, of course, also affects philosophy, and to a lesser but still valid extent, the social sciences. Add in the sort of more fringe religion tossups (Scientology! The big spaceship from the Nation of Islam!) that might pop up in the Current Events/General Knowledge category, and, well, in terms of actual pure straight up no foolin' this is a question on beliefs and/or texts of a religion, I might actually agree with Ryan--do we really need 1/1 of it (note: this is assuming that religion still continues to appear in History, Myth, Philosophy, Social Science, Your Choice/Current Events).

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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by naturalistic phallacy » Thu Sep 10, 2009 11:25 pm

Cheynem wrote:Yeah, Religion is such a bastard category because a lot of the stuff you can write there can really be placed elsewhere. As Ryan suggested, church history stuff is generally placed in the History part of the distribution. Some religions and mythological systems get pretty mixed together in the distro (Shintoism and Hinduism, for whatever reason, tend to be the major players here). Religion, of course, also affects philosophy, and to a lesser but still valid extent, the social sciences. Add in the sort of more fringe religion tossups (Scientology! The big spaceship from the Nation of Islam!) that might pop up in the Current Events/General Knowledge category, and, well, in terms of actual pure straight up no foolin' this is a question on beliefs and/or texts of a religion, I might actually agree with Ryan--do we really need 1/1 of it (note: this is assuming that religion still continues to appear in History, Myth, Philosophy, Social Science, Your Choice/Current Events).

What the hell is happening with me...I am agreeing with Ryan Westbrook more and more...must stop eating chicken fries.
I do feel that we need at least 1/0, preferably 1/1, of religion precisely because of its impact on and presence within history, art, literature, social sciences etc... The wide variety of topics one could write on for religion shouldn't mean we just allow it to dissolve into other categories; it should mean that we end up with a category filled with interesting answer selections that accurately reflect the influence and scope of religion and belief.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by theMoMA » Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:20 am

There seems to be a lot of confusion going on here that stems from the nature of the change of geography's role in the distribution. If we were arguing for geography's elimination, we would have to definitively prove things like "geography is impossible to write well" or "geography is inherently uninteresting" or "knowledge of geography is not worth testing for in quizbowl." Because we're arguing that geography's role should be reduced, there is no burden to prove such things, or even reduced forms of such things. We simply need to show that the current role of geography in the distribution is disproportionate.

If you ask me, the strongest argument is that geography, especially in the almanac-heavy form that essentially rewards what is learned in sixth grade, simply doesn't feel like the academic equal of physics, American literature, mythology, music, painting, or for that matter, any mandated 1/1 category in the current distribution. It also doesn't feel right that geography-bee geography has about four times the place in the distribution as economics, psychology, sociology, psychology, and the other social sciences.

We're never going to have non-subjective ways to quantify these gut feelings about the distribution, but we have to be able to change the distribution when enough people feel that it goes awry. Especially considering that the change to more geography was made just recently, this seems like a perfectly good time for a referendum on the subject.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Cheynem » Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:33 am

If we're judging things using gut feelings, then I'd like to see trash go or get sliced down before geography. I do think that geography is probably best served as a 1/0 or 0/1 placement within social science or something, allowing for natural bleeding into history and science.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:55 am

Cheynem wrote:If we're judging things using gut feelings, then I'd like to see trash go or get sliced down before geography. I do think that geography is probably best served as a 1/0 or 0/1 placement within social science or something, allowing for natural bleeding into history and science.
This is exactly right.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by magin » Fri Sep 11, 2009 11:58 am

I think Seth is not correct to call geography a social science for quizbowl purposes. In the academy, geography may be grouped in the social sciences, but in quizbowl, social science questions describe theories about humans, while geography questions are about places and the interactions between humans and places. Moreover, I think it's true that well-written geography questions reward primary knowledge of travel (and/or curiosity about visiting other places/cultures); I don't see how that knowledge is intrinsically less worthwhile than knowledge of art or music. I sympathize with people disliking questions that mostly list minor tributaries of the Parana river, but I don't think all geography questions are doomed to using such clues; as I argued previously, I think asking about countries, cities, states, and major places where humans live would allow most writers to use clues that would be interesting and reward primary knowledge.

Also, to be honest, the answer space for geography is much larger than the answer space for individual social sciences. Just taking countries, cities, and states alone, there are easily 250 accessible geography answers (not including the Parana River). There are much fewer accessible answers in psychology or sociology; for instance, Andrew Hart termed a tossup on the extremely important psychologist Hans Eysenck as suitable "for psych experts only." There are equally important figures as Eysenck in every field of social science, but who's going to answer tossups on them? It would benefit me a lot if the social science canon expanded to include figures like Eysenck, but I'm pretty sure it would just lead to more dead tossups everywhere.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:10 pm

magin wrote:I think Seth is not correct to call geography a social science for quizbowl purposes. In the academy, geography may be grouped in the social sciences, but in quizbowl, social science questions describe theories about humans, while geography questions are about places and the interactions between humans and places.
This argument is not going to persuade someone like Mike or myself, who do think that we should adhere more closely to external academic standards in our writing. Saying that "quizbowl does things this way" is not a good argument for why it should be done this way.
Moreover, I think it's true that well-written geography questions reward primary knowledge of travel (and/or curiosity about visiting other places/cultures); I don't see how that knowledge is intrinsically less worthwhile than knowledge of art or music.
I've traveled a decent amount; more than some, much less than others. If you're going to ask me about landmarks in Paris, that's something I might know, having been to Paris. I don't know of that many people who have traveled to the Fergana Valley or Sao Tome and Principe so that they're going to get those questions off primary knowledge.
I sympathize with people disliking questions that mostly list minor tributaries of the Parana river, but I don't think all geography questions are doomed to using such clues; as I argued previously, I think asking about countries, cities, states, and major places where humans live would allow most writers to use clues that would be interesting and reward primary knowledge.
They're not doomed to use such clues, but they do. Even relatively unlazy writers such as myself usually resort to them because the logic is, hey, it's a geography tossup, better list some tributaries/mountain ranges/etc. It's hard to find good clues that aren't of that nature, and I speak with someone with access to a lot of resources.
Also, to be honest, the answer space for geography is much larger than the answer space for individual social sciences. Just taking countries, cities, and states alone, there are easily 250 accessible geography answers (not including the Parana River). There are much fewer accessible answers in psychology or sociology; for instance, Andrew Hart termed a tossup on the extremely important psychologist Hans Eysenck as suitable "for psych experts only." There are equally important figures as Eysenck in every field of social science, but who's going to answer tossups on them? It would benefit me a lot if the social science canon expanded to include figures like Eysenck, but I'm pretty sure it would just lead to more dead tossups everywhere.
No one is advocating for more Hans Eysenck tossups; this seems like a little bit of a false dilemma to me. We can reform geography while at the same time being creative in our choices for other social science questions in such a way that we don't end up expanding that canon beyond the scope of things most people will be able to answer.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Sep 11, 2009 12:11 pm

Cheynem wrote:If we're judging things using gut feelings, then I'd like to see trash go or get sliced down before geography. I do think that geography is probably best served as a 1/0 or 0/1 placement within social science or something, allowing for natural bleeding into history and science.
I would be happy to endorse both parts of this proposal. I've already advocated for the elimination of trash at ACF Nationals, and I hope it comes to pass this year.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by magin » Fri Sep 11, 2009 1:04 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
magin wrote:I think Seth is not correct to call geography a social science for quizbowl purposes. In the academy, geography may be grouped in the social sciences, but in quizbowl, social science questions describe theories about humans, while geography questions are about places and the interactions between humans and places.
This argument is not going to persuade someone like Mike or myself, who do think that we should adhere more closely to external academic standards in our writing. Saying that "quizbowl does things this way" is not a good argument for why it should be done this way.
I too support academic standards when they are useful. However, my argument is that good geography tossups primarily reward travel/experience instead of academic study.
grapesmoker wrote:
magin wrote:Moreover, I think it's true that well-written geography questions reward primary knowledge of travel (and/or curiosity about visiting other places/cultures); I don't see how that knowledge is intrinsically less worthwhile than knowledge of art or music.
I've traveled a decent amount; more than some, much less than others. If you're going to ask me about landmarks in Paris, that's something I might know, having been to Paris. I don't know of that many people who have traveled to the Fergana Valley or Sao Tome and Principe so that they're going to get those questions off primary knowledge.
If you don't think that anyone will have primary knowledge of the Fergana Valley or Sao Tome and Principe, then I don't think it's a good idea to write tossups on either of those answers. However, I think there are many geography answers that we can reasonably expect people to have primary knowledge about (and are not Sao Tome and Principe).
grapesmoker wrote:
magin wrote:I sympathize with people disliking questions that mostly list minor tributaries of the Parana river, but I don't think all geography questions are doomed to using such clues; as I argued previously, I think asking about countries, cities, states, and major places where humans live would allow most writers to use clues that would be interesting and reward primary knowledge.
They're not doomed to use such clues, but they do. Even relatively unlazy writers such as myself usually resort to them because the logic is, hey, it's a geography tossup, better list some tributaries/mountain ranges/etc. It's hard to find good clues that aren't of that nature, and I speak with someone with access to a lot of resources.
I fail to see that logic. When writing a geography tossup, the most important thing to do is to find clues that reward people with primary knowledge, which I doubt means tributaries/mountain ranges (unless they have some intrinsic importance). I can understand that it can be hard to write about natural features, which is why I advocated writing geography tossups about places where humans live and travel.
grapesmoker wrote:
magin wrote:Also, to be honest, the answer space for geography is much larger than the answer space for individual social sciences. Just taking countries, cities, and states alone, there are easily 250 accessible geography answers (not including the Parana River). There are much fewer accessible answers in psychology or sociology; for instance, Andrew Hart termed a tossup on the extremely important psychologist Hans Eysenck as suitable "for psych experts only." There are equally important figures as Eysenck in every field of social science, but who's going to answer tossups on them? It would benefit me a lot if the social science canon expanded to include figures like Eysenck, but I'm pretty sure it would just lead to more dead tossups everywhere.
No one is advocating for more Hans Eysenck tossups; this seems like a little bit of a false dilemma to me. We can reform geography while at the same time being creative in our choices for other social science questions in such a way that we don't end up expanding that canon beyond the scope of things most people will be able to answer.
My point is, that if Hans Eysenck and other important, non-canonical social scientists are "beyond the scope of things most people will be able to answer" at high-level tournaments, then the canon of askable social science answers, even at high levels, is currently fairly small, and certainly smaller than the canon of askable geography answers.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:30 pm

magin wrote:I too support academic standards when they are useful. However, my argument is that good geography tossups primarily reward travel/experience instead of academic study.
What an absurd idea! What is this but special pleading in favor of geography? We might as well justify asking questions about metalworking or driver's ed a la Illinois by this logic. Quizbowl has nothing to do with rewarding travel or experience.
If you don't think that anyone will have primary knowledge of the Fergana Valley or Sao Tome and Principe, then I don't think it's a good idea to write tossups on either of those answers. However, I think there are many geography answers that we can reasonably expect people to have primary knowledge about (and are not Sao Tome and Principe).
Here's an exercise for you: take the set of all geography tossups written and compare them with places people have actually been. I bet you're going to find very little overlap. What's more, if you compare the set of possible geography answers, which is huge, with where people actually go, you're going to find that the overlap of those sets is also very small. It's a well-established fact that quizbowl geography does not conform at all to this criterion, and making it try to conform to it will not result in good questions.
I fail to see that logic. When writing a geography tossup, the most important thing to [qdo is to find clues that reward people with primary knowledge, which I doubt means tributaries/mountain ranges (unless they have some intrinsic importance). I can understand that it can be hard to write about natural features, which is why I advocated writing geography tossups about places where humans live and travel.
Your doubt is incorrect; that's definitely primary knowledge, every bit as much as having studied a painting is primary knowledge. You're just trying to find a definition of "primary knowledge" that allows for geography to maintain its current place.
My point is, that if Hans Eysenck and other important, non-canonical social scientists are "beyond the scope of things most people will be able to answer" at high-level tournaments, then the canon of askable social science answers, even at high levels, is currently fairly small, and certainly smaller than the canon of askable geography answers.
So what? What does this have to do with what we're talking about? If anything, this is an argument for reintegrating geography into social science, because then you can write a good geography tossup that people will get instead of a tossup on Hans Eysenck. But even if this weren't the case, it wouldn't matter because fewer or more tossups on Hans Eysenck does not mean anything at all when it comes to evaluating how much geography we should have.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Cheynem » Fri Sep 11, 2009 2:50 pm

Yeah, I like geography, but having it relate to travel/experience is a bit shaky in my opinion. Unlike actually reading a book or performing an experiment, there's nothing inherently "instructional" about going to a particular city or country. A good geography tossup should reward academic knowledge obtained through whatever means--if it means I paid attention to the climatology of a region when I was living or traveling there, that's fine, or if it means I just read about it in a class I'm taking, that's fine too. To use an analogy, religion tossups should not primarily reward practitioners of the religion over academic study of the religion.
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by magin » Fri Sep 11, 2009 3:41 pm

Jerry, let me examine your statement that "Quizbowl has nothing to do with rewarding travel or experience." The point of early clues in tossups is that they (hopefully) reward primary knowledge over well-known clues, is it not? That primary knowledge, I argue, comes from experience, whether the experience of reading a book, performing a chemical reaction, listening to music, or taking a class. I think that visiting places and being curious about them is similarly another type of experience that creates primary knowledge, and since pyramidal tossups on places can certainly be written, why deem that experience less valid in terms of quizbowl, since both can be tested using the same forms?

I fail to see how a tossup on Buenos Aires that mentions notable buildings/places in it that someone might see if he/she visited Buenos Aires (or gain primary knowledge about in some way) is somehow equivalent to a driver's ed tossup. Is it not possible to have academic knowledge of Buenos Aires? I'm skeptical of that claim.

Incidentally, this is also an argument for current events, since pyramidal questions that reward primary knowledge can also be written about current events. All in all, I'd prefer to err on the side of including more kinds of knowledge, as long as they lend themselves to good questions (and I think that geography and current events can be written well, unlike driver's ed).
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by naturalistic phallacy » Fri Sep 11, 2009 3:41 pm

Cheynem wrote:Yeah, I like geography, but having it relate to travel/experience is a bit shaky in my opinion. Unlike actually reading a book or performing an experiment, there's nothing inherently "instructional" about going to a particular city or country. A good geography tossup should reward academic knowledge obtained through whatever means--if it means I paid attention to the climatology of a region when I was living or traveling there, that's fine, or if it means I just read about it in a class I'm taking, that's fine too. To use an analogy, religion tossups should not primarily reward practitioners of the religion over academic study of the religion.
While I like what you said about geography, Mike, I feel that it is a little more difficult to primarily reward those who academically study religion and those who just practice it. While we can put in early clues that explicate Talal Asad's theories of belief or how a certain book of the Bible is derived from the P source, praxis clues are often more accessible to writers, easier to understand, and far more interesting to hear. That said, I understand the desire to move away from tossups on "St. Nicholas' Day" or other holidays that contain only praxis clues and very little academic material. Those kinds of clues only bore people who have no contact with the holiday and often confuse those who do (since praxis varies so much over cultures and time periods and certain rituals are not often unique to one holiday).
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Re: geography's role in the canon, round 398479386987

Post by Important Bird Area » Fri Sep 11, 2009 4:06 pm

magin wrote:I think that visiting places and being curious about them is similarly another type of experience that creates primary knowledge
I'd split this in half: being curious about places is something that we want to reward (insofar as it is obvious that qb should reward being curious about authors or kings or chemical reactions). Just visiting a place and *not* being curious about it has no value. That is: a well-written geography tossup should reward a player who stayed home and read academic works about Buenos Aires, over a player who went there and spent the entire vacation in nightclubs rather than learning about the history/art/architecture of Argentina.
grapesmoker wrote:I'm all for what I see as Seth's compromise position: reclassify geography as a social science, limit it to 1/0 or 0/1 within that distribution, and reform the writing practice of that subject matter in such a way that it represents some kind of academic relevance.
I'll second this, with an addendum that I personally like more geography than that, and I think that people shouldn't shy away from using important geography clues in other parts of the distribution. That is: feel free to use placenames where appropriate in other categories (often in history, I'd argue, and at least sometimes in biology and earth science). Which accomplishes the dual goals of: making the tossups more interesting because names of tributaries or whatever coexist with other clue types instead of being long lists, and ensuring that the geography clue has some measure of academic relevance (because it's structurally useful to a tossup in some other field).
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