I think this is a long-overdue discussion; here's my overly-long contribution.
My feeling is that most "tournament criticism" these days does not have as its primary objective the modification of people's behavior, but rather the venting of the poster's spleen, preferably with as many references to moose cocks and steaming mountains of feces as possible. I find these "I hate you die die die" posts boring, often idiotic, and counterproductive. You're all reasonably intelligent; you're capable of thinking carefully about things, then communicating clearly what you've come up with. This is a large part of what I value in hearing (good) quizbowl questions, and I wish people would make more use of these faculties in writing real quizbowl-related posts. I have no problem with people throwing this out the window and making inane posts in silly threads that are clearly designated for such silliness, but I think we all stand to benefit if the threads with some potential for usefulness are not bloated with useless posts--for instance, why do we have a post in this thread reminiscing about a tossup from last year that included the words "tentacle porn," or a post being cute about stating that more than one "guy from the south...hates Jews," or a post mocking the "ACF IS IMPOSSIBLE" stance? What do any of these things have to do with trying to figure out how to produce effective criticism?
Moving back to the real point of this thread, I'll say that I think the 4 criteria Mike presented sound reasonable (I'm thinking exclusively of criticisms of questions/packets/tournaments; perhaps there should be other criteria for other types of criticism, but I'm not particularly interested in that). Going through them in order:
I do feel that people could often do a better job of presenting "a difficult-to-dispute causal chain from the behavior criticized to some undesirable result." For one thing, I think people could do a better job about presenting such a chain clearly and calmly. When someone says, "This question sucked moose cock, here's why," it's much easier for me to stop reading after "moose" and ignore any well-reasoned argument that might follow, than it is for me to ignore a well-reasoned argument presented in clear, reasonably polite language that opens with something along the lines of, "I don't think this question was as good as the rest of the set, here's why..." Another point: I often feel that people could do a better job of being more clear about why they didn't like something and what could have been done to fix it--suppose some new person tries to write a packet, or edit a tournament, and winds up with lots of biography tossups with bad biography clues, a la "His father worked as a cop, his mom stayed at home, he was born in 1920, he attended Harvard..." Suppose the tournament set (or packet) also has a good "biography" tossup on, say, Coulomb, with clues discussing real stuff in science named for Coulomb, Coulomb's important scientific work, etc. If all this new person hears is the criticism "too much biography bowl, that stuff is terrible, never do it again," how is he/she supposed to know that the Coulomb tossup is fine but the others are not, and why?
This ties in with the second point ("the motive for the criticism is reasonably only the betterment of the performance of the person criticized"), which I think is of paramount importance, and is where I think most current "tournament criticism" fails. To my mind, the real goal of any tournament criticism should be to improve future events--events run by the same people that ran the tournament being criticized, and events run by other people who read the thread and learn from intelligent criticism of other people's events. Again, when I start seeing phrases like "worst tournament ever" and "this packet made me want to rip my eyes out," I have a hard time believing that the person writing the post honestly wants to see the editor/writer/TD learn from their mistakes and do a better job next time. Many times I'm left with the impression that people want to see the editor/writer/TD they're criticizing retire from quizbowl. I have a hard time understanding this type of response, since pretty every single person who writes this type of post has been guilty of writing bad packets and editing bad tournaments at some point in their past. Many of these angry people managed to learn something about writing and editing over the years, for the most part without having people scream at them; why not give people the benefit of the doubt, post some useful criticism, and try to get them to the same lofty heights of great question-writing/editing you inhabit? After all, the more people learn to write and edit good questions, the better-off we all are.
I'm not really sure what to say about the third point--I'm not sure what makes someone "reasonably an authority." To some extent, I'd say anyone in the target audience of a tournament set is "reasonably an authority." Aside from that, I guess people "establish their credentials" by writing good questions and editing well-received tournaments (NOT from writing tons of posts on this board). Anyway, assuming the question/packet/tournament being criticized is intended for collegiate competition, I'd say pretty much any college student should feel free to weigh in on things they feel they know about, and writers/editors should feel free to decide for themselves how seriously they want to take any given criticism.
Again, I don't think the fourth point has much of interest. We all take quizbowl reasonably seriously, but I don't think anyone feels so strongly about their own writing/editing/TDing merits that they'll feel threatened by polite, constructive criticism.
Moving on from the initial post by Mike: I think Ahmad makes some good points. I agree that many subtleties can be lost in writing. For this reason, I think it's important to try to be clear about criticism and spell things out ("this isn't so good, because..."). I also agree with Ahmad that various posters tend to adopt a style that is "bombastic to the point of battering," and that this is a bad thing. Over in the thread discussing this year's ICT, Jerry claims "to the best of my knowledge, [Seth] has never said anything bad about any tournament ever." I find this strange, since in my post about ICT I did discuss some bad things (bonus variability, some tossups that were too easy too fast [e.g., Battleship Potemkin], etc.). I tried to lay out my criticisms in a calm, polite manner, and I mentioned many of the positive aspects of the tournament in my post because I thought ICT was good overall and I was writing partly in reaction to some posts that I thought were "bombastic to the point of battering," but does any of this invalidate or weaken the criticisms I made? Do I have to scream insults for people to realize that I'm talking about something that I think could have been better, and that they should work on in the future?
Millionwaves, I don't think it's a problem that people are passionate about quizbowl--in fact, I think that makes it more likely that people will care enough about quizbowl performance to incorporate feedback. The point, I think, is that when we say to someone, "this question wasn't so good because..." we're not causing irrevocable psychic trauma--people can handle (calm, polite) criticism.
I guess I agree with Eric that "Excoriation...doesn't preclude rationality." However, I usually feel that the level of anger in posts excoriating packets and tournaments is not what I would call a rational response.
Chris mentions "people who are quite literally ruining quizbowl." I don't think any such people exist. I also can't think of a single editor/TD that doesn't put forth "a real effort to produce a good set." The issue is not that there are people trying to produce horrible sets, it's that there are people who don't really understand what to do with the time they put in to working on their packets/sets. I think at least some of these people will respond positively to clear, calm, constructive criticism.
Eric then states that he's seen "flame-worthy shit, and it's fine to get angry when anger is necessary." I don't think any question, packet or tournament set has ever struck me as "flame-worthy," but perhaps he sets the bar lower. In general I don't see where anger could be necessary in posting criticism; perhaps anger could be necessary in dealing with people trying to sabotage a tournament or a club or something, but that's not criticism.
I agree with Robert. If you're really pissed off about something, take some time to calm down and think about things clearly before posting. I've played tournaments where I did not have a good time, but realized after looking over the questions later that the fault lay with me, not the questions. Wait until the "post-tournament hangover" Ahmad mentions has gone away.
All right, I'm done. And in case anyone won't hear what I'm saying if I keep things calm and polite, calm the fuck down, bitches!