New Forum Suggestion, Part CCLXXIX

Okay, maybe not a new forum altogether, but an idea… I guess it could be incorporated into the present Great Debates forum. It’s somethat that was implemented elsewhere (PhilosophyForums) and worked out well. It’s the idea of a real debate, with more light than noise.

How about a way for two people, or two equal teams of people, to debate an issue without the fear of a pile-on from either side? Suppose, for example, that I wanted to challenge Dewey Cheatham Undhow to a debate about libertarianism versus majoritarianism, and that several other posters couldn’t come to my side and deluge him with questions and catcalls. This would give him a fair chance to air his views without feeling obliged to spend all day on answering everyone, and without being subject to accusations of evasion.

It is voluntary, of course, and mods can’t enforce it perfectly. But it could be upon the honor of SDMB citizens to opt out of such threads so marked. All that would be needed is a convention for assigning the participants and marking the threads. Those who feel they must comment can open a separate thread and hash it out in there. They can even vote who’s winning and who’s losing.


Yes, I do realize that two people could just go ahead and open such a thread anyway and hope for the best, but if it had the stamp of official approval, it might help towards legitimacy whenever infractions occur. It could, at the very least, be considered officially rude. And the intruder(s) could be ignored without the participants having to worry about “why aren’t they answering those questions?”.

I like the idea. I having been thinking about suggesting structured debates in GD too. It seems like it would increase the amount of GD moderation and I wasn’t sure how that would go over. What about having a fellow poster act as host for the debate?

That’s actually how they do it at PF. The two parties agree to moderation by another board member, and the whole thing has the admins’ blessings. The debates are wonderful. The noise is minimal. And the topics are explored much more deeply.

It’s a nice idea, but I have to wonder if it’s feasible without modifying the board software. You know how that goes over…

Yeah, I don’t think I’d go to that extent, Ultra. It’d basically just be an honor-bound agreement to allow two evenly divided sides to argue an issue. Just like a real debate. It couldn’t be forced, as I said. But if it had official blessing, then a solid case could be made that disruptors are cads. Hopefully, most Dopers, especially in Great Debates, are honorable people, and would agree to cooperate if for no other reason than to read really excellent and deep examinations of issues.

See, what happens when one person feels overwhelmed, or when too many take one side is that there is a lot of movement away from the topic, a lot of hurrying to catch up and respond, and a lot of noise as anxiety levels rise and tempers flare. With a reasonable expectation of an even match, people tend to stick to the topic, explore the issues deeply, and be much more civil. It’s a case of one person (or team) inviting another to debate, and that person accepting. So from the very get-go, all parties are interested. They know they can’t tag team. And the light to noise ratio is much better.

At least that’s how it worked out at PF, which had been rather notorious for rambunctious and contentious debates. Paul (the owner) just gave it a bit of extra attention at the outset, and it wasn’t long before people got it. And now they love it. Anyway, I just thought it might be worth a try. It’d be nice to put the quality of minds we have here to the task of real debates on a wide range of issues.

So why do we need a new forum?

Well, we don’t. See the OP: “Okay, maybe not a new forum altogether, but an idea…”.

Gee, Lib, how come you’re just answering ultra’s questions and ignoring all the others?

Oh come on, it was a little funny…

Seriously, I love the idea. I think honor-bound would work as long as none of the following applied:

  1. Poster A only opens that type of thread on a controversial subject with patsy Poster B serving up softballs (Randi and the Million Dollar Challenge anyone?).
  2. Poster B simply acts as a funnel. Getting questions and answers via email and posting within seconds of any Poster A response (see any number of subjects that devolve into pile-ons).
  3. Poster moderator (note small “m”) gets into the debate.
  4. Poster A and/or B promptly pit Poster Moderator over some decision (Jerkitude extreme, but you know it’ll happen at some point).

Probably a few others that would cause immediate melt-down.

I think at some point you’d have to have some Moderator enforcement and I don’t know if they have the time. Lovely idea though.

If you want to debate an issue one-on-one with another poster, why not do it via e-mail?
At the end, if you think that SDMB members would profit from the wisdom generated by this e-mail discussion, slap it up on a webpage and post in MPSIMS including a link to your webpage. Saves us work.

If you’d like to have a formal debate, suggest to the GD moderators that policy for that forum permit formal debate threads. The following is one plausible setup for them if the GD moderators agree to it.

They’d be titled “Formal Debate: Should Public Utilities Be Privatized?” or some such. The “Formal Debate:…” leadin in the title is a clue to members that it’s not a normal GD thead. Rules for all such debates would be in a sticky thread, and would be something to the effect that the two debaters each get X posts to present their material and Y posts rebutting their opponent’s contentions, with all other members honorbound not to post during that period (and their posts in violation of that rule subject to deletion without notice). It might be worthwhile to permit an “open question” period where other members could raise questions relative to material presented, with the two debaters answering such questions, prior to each side presenting a summation. If you want an evaluation, each debater names one judge from membership and the two judges together name a third, judges having to agree to the role. Arrangements for a formal debate would be made via e-mail (or in posts to another thread, where it becomes obvious that two contributors to that thread are strong proponents of opposing views and they’re both willing to take it to formal debate). Terms of the debate – how many direct and rebuttal posts each side may make, who are the debaters, whether open questions will be permitted and when, etc. – are agreed beforehand in e-mail and stated in an OP by one of the debaters prior to his first substantive post to the thread.

The above can be adapted for “team” debates and for multi-sided issues where there may be three or four sides presenting their position.

Or, for that matter, A Dialog on the Two Chief Worldviews. Well, OK, Galileo was right, but it was still an underhanded technique, and could be just as easily applied to a wrong or undecided view.

Of course, this is easy enough to spot, but there’s another, related, problem: Suppose that one poster genuinely supports position A, and the other genuinely supports position B, but that the second poster is not the most well-informed or articulate proponant of B? He might then make an inferior argument and give an edge to A, regardless of the actual merits (which some other poster might be better equipped to present). What’s to stop a person from challenging only the less capable posters among his opposition?

Part of the beauty of this board is being able to hear different viewpoints. Why should we seek to limit a discussion on any subject down to only two points of view?

Of course now I’m seeing Liberal as an intellectual Bruce Lee. Surrounded by opponents but he wins because they each wait their turn to challenge him.

Nothing except for the fact that it’s sometimes surpising just who that is. I’ve often been surprised in debates to discover that the very best arguments against me are coming from someone I didn’t expect. Of course, people can have up-days and down-days.

We shouldn’t. There’s nothing in the idea to preclude any number of formal debates from going on at the same time. But formal debate is dichotomous — an assertion is made, and one side takes pro, while the other takes con.

I like your suggestions with one exception: no e-mail. Many members, for any number of legitimate reasons, do not publish their e-mail. At PF, there is a single ongoing thread in which challenges are made and declined/accepted/ignored. It works well. That said, I wonder whether you would be interested in pitching the ide to the GD moderators, Poly.

I would like to propose a slightly different idea. Sometimes, when in a GD debate, the asynchronous nature of the board just draaaags the discussion out into absurd lengths taking many days to clarify a single point. Instead, it would be interesting IMHO if a few of the prolific debaters (say no more than 6), try and agree to find a commonly agreed upon time to debate on a IRC channel(Of course, completely independant of the SDMB in the same way that dopefests and the LJ are independant). An impartial poster could be chosen to be moderator and anyone would be free to join the IRC channel but not to post. Later, the entire IRC log (edited for clarity if anyone can be bothered) could be posted to GD and discussion could continue from there.

I think this would allow for a different type of debate that could work synergistically with the conventional type.

I would think that if people can’t remain civil during a debate, they should think twice before joining the debate. If anxiety levels are rising and tempers flaring, the poster needs to step away from their keyboard. If a poster is feeling overwhelmed, maybe they should take a break from debating, or consider whether they have the time and patience to respond to many posts on their topic, before starting the debate. People understand that others aren’t at the boards 24/7 and don’t expect an instant response, especially if the next time you post, you explain that you’ll get to the rest of the points when you have time, and don’t then answer newer points, ignoring the older ones.


Wouldn’t this tend to worsen the situation. If having a single thread with several different people can be overwhelming, it would seem having several simultaneous threads all on the same subject would be much more overwhelming. Trying to keep your thoughts organized and distinct under such circumstances would be very difficult, like playing simultaneous chess games against multiple opponents.

No. At least, it hasn’t proved to be so in practice. I don’t know where you get “several simultaneous threads all on the same subject” from anyway. There is the formal debate thread, and then there is (possibly, but not necessarily) a thread where people are discussing the debate. That’s two, not several. One is an actual debate, and the other is what we currently have.

With respect to a poster taking a break because he feels overwhelmed, that’s a fine solution if a thread is indeed a pile-on. But what this idea tries to achieve is elimination of the pile-on to start with. If a thread comes to the point where someone feels overwhelmed and tensions rise, that’s not a debate — it’s a struggle to see who can make the most noise. It might be a Great Topic, or a Great Free-For-All, but it isn’t a very Great Debate.