DumbJaques wrote:I'd be interested in hearing (in a separate topic, probably) people like Jerry and others outline what kinds of things actually meet this criteria. In particular, I'd really like to be able to write physics questions that don't suck (or at least pick answer lines that don't), but I'm not sure what does or doesn't make something fall into that category.
Step 1: pick a basic concept from physics (momentum, mass, density, whatever)
Step 2: find ways in which that concept is applied
Step 3: write tossup using those clues
Your question does not need to be on Obscure Doubly-Eponymous Effect. Chances are no one knows anything about it anyway. Chances are even better that whatever people know about it can be reduced to "thing X is associated with thing Y therefore I should mash button when I hear that."
I suppose this is also a topic for the other thread, but I do question the premise that absolutely every science question has to be rigorously more accessible to any person who has taken science classes in the same basic category (bio, physics, etc.) than it is to anyone else.
I am trying and failing to come up with a charitable interpretation of this statement. Maybe you should tell me what you mean more explicitly so I don't attribute the worst possible reading of this to you.
This isn't really the same as drawing an analogy to reading a book vs. reading about a book, because being a chemist won't guarantee that you'll work with lysine pharmaceuticals any more than being an English major (or even like, an American literature PhD) will guarantee that you've read X book.
A better analogy might be: You've read 5 books by Herman Melville but don't know that he wrote some mediocre Civil War poetry. I haven't read any books by Melville but know he wrote something called Battle Pieces. Consequently, I beat you to a Melville tossup despite having much, much less knowledge than you.
The difference between the literature and science canons though is that there's so much literature out there that there's no way someone's going to memorize all the titles of everything ever. So you can do things like write a tossup on a new author without worrying too much about the fact that someone has a laundry list of titles memorized. The set of named things in physics is much smaller, so if you know that basically every tournament is going to feature tossups on various effects, you just look up the other words associated with them and voila! you're a physicist, at least as far as quizbowl is concerned.
I agree that in general, most science questions need to draw from material you'd actually encounter when academically studying a topic, but I don't think that implies you can't have any answer lines where there's not a huge clue differential between people who've taken advanced physics classes or whatever and people who haven't.
I take it as axiomatic that studying a subject should get me points in a game which ostensibly hinges on the concept of awarding points to people who know more about a thing than other people. If a question fails to distinguish between someone who spent 10 years studying a subject and someone who read a wikipedia article, it's a bad question.
I don't like, expect all the history questions I hear to be filled with clues on primary sources or historiography (or to be on answer lines that lend themselves to such a structure). It doesn't at all strike me as problematic that Jerry could spend an hour one day reading an essay about the Ethiopian-Eritrean war and beat me to a question on it because the leadin wasn't on one of the primary sources I read for my paper.
I guess it could conceivably happen, but given that history is ridiculously broad, this would be a once-in-a-blue-moon event. It's simply not possible to do this to any real extent in either history or literature because the space of possible answers and clues is so large. This happens all the time
in science; if this were just a one-off, I wouldn't bother noting it, but it's a chronic and persistent problem especially in the physical sciences.
I'm not sure why it would be patently unacceptable if Auroni read an article and further researched some topic and was able to beat a physicist because the first clues were something that could be understood without having to take advanced thermodynamics or whatever.
Hey let's write bio questions about weird bugs because I like weird bugs and I really hate all this bullshit about proteins and metabolic pathways and UGH THE HEGEMONY OF THE BIOLOGISTS IS SO UNFAIR.
Perhaps I'm not understanding Jerry's argument correctly (apologies if that's the case), but it does seem to me like we don't come close to applying this standard to any other categories. Nor should we, because it doesn't at all benefit the game to fill the law subdistribution with tossups on constructive trust or other stuff appropriate only for Andrew Hart Law Bowl - let's be clear, I am not arguing that we need to overhaul how we write about non-science categories (or how we write about science categories, either).
Actually we do: music is a great example. There's no way for me (except by dumb luck) to beat John Lawrence to a music tossup. Look at the way those questions are written: they contain technical detail that becomes progressively easier and then there's some kind of giveaway that makes it possible for know-nothings like myself to answer the question. That's fine, that's how it should be. But it's also the case that science is not like other categories. It's not like history or literature, for reasons I've delineated above and also because the methodology of expertise acquisition is different.
I am, however, questioning why there's something inherently wrong with having some questions in the science distribution that don't automatically place people who've taken higher level classes in that area in a position of advantage over people who have read perhaps significantly about the topic, but can't understand the mechanics of physics equations. Note, here, that I'm distinguishing "taken higher level classes in the same general area of science" from "studied this specific thing," which IS akin to reading or studying a novel.
I don't understand this. All things being equal, a good question should advantage someone who knows a lot about the material. If I have read a lot of Heinrich Boll, then I should be advantaged on Heinrich Boll tossups. If your tossup on Heinrich Boll is a list of his works, you have destroyed most of the advantage I might accrue from reading them. This is bad for reasons which I really don't think I should need to explain.
If you don't understand the mechanics of the physics equation, you are in the same position as someone who has not read the book. You may still answer the question in the end based on your folk understanding, but all other things being equal, you should be at a disadvantage against someone who does understand what's going on. The name Moller-Plesset means nothing to me, but I know how to do perturbation theory because I've spent years doing it. Because I know more about perturbation theory than you, I should be able to beat you to a tossup on it.
And for what's it's worth, geology/earth science questions frequently bear almost NO actual relation to what geologists actually study. In fact, many questions I hear about geophysics more often than not are outdated (sometimes by like, a century!), filled with lies, or are on geomagnetic reversals. There aren't really any geologists around in quizbowl to bitch about this, so it's largely unaddressed and in theory it's no harder for me to get one of those tossups on "apatite" or whatever than it is for a science player or even for a mineralogists. My question here is, so what? Science players still seem to get those questions, there's clearly not some kind of big crisis where we can't have mineralogy questions anymore because THEY TOOK OUR JOBS, and the quizbowl world as we know it is still fine. I'm not sure why a similar standard can't be applied to other areas of science, though I freely admit I don't have enough of a scientific background to know whether there's an element of this situation I'm just not capable of grasping. Hopefully nobody writes a tossup on that.
Yes, this sucks. So change it by writing good geoscience questions. For what it's worth though, geoscientists spend a ridiculous amount of time studying rock compositions, but endless tossups on rocks are boring and dumb and we can do better.