ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Scientific Demarcation And Metascience: The National Academy Of Sciences On The Greenhouse Effect And Neo-Darwinism

logo  2006Scholars who have followed up on Thomas Gieryn’s work (1983) on scientific boundary – work have often seen rhetorical behavior of this kind as an informal alternative to the kind of demarcation undertaken by philosophers of science. The functionality of informal demarcation was fleshed out in Charles Alan Taylor’s (1996) application of this model to various controversies in American science. Like Gieryn, Taylor regards boundary – work as a positive alternative to formal philosophizing on the nature of science. I do agree that the articulation of such dividing lines as arise from institutional challenges to science may achieve practical resolutions to problems that philosophers of science have never been able to resolve, but this exclusive focus overlooks some of the complexities arising from demarcation of this kind.
Certainly it is as important for scientists as it is for philosophers to develop what I will here call “metascience,” answers to the question: what is science? And so the informal argumentative work that achieves this may be as vital as Gieryn and Taylor suggest – especially if it succeeds where more academic exercises of scientific demarcation do not. But in this essay I will consider the complicating fact that the motives that inspire boundary-work are not strictly regulated by intellectual concerns. Because of this informal demarcation could easily misfire, causing scientists to define their own intellectual labors in ways that could weaken or perhaps even undermine public deliberations that bear upon scientific questions.

This problem is suggested by Gieryn’s own analysis of the three ideological pressures that inspire boundary-work (pp. 785-791):
(1) outside encroachments upon science such as might come from religious interests,
(2) challenges to the ethicality of science, and
(3) the need to protect scientific patronage by excluding pseudo-science.

Of course these efforts may have something to do with science as practice, but more often they have to do with the secondary concerns of science as an institutional body. This is shown in one of the cases that interested Gieryn, the informal demarcation undertaken in the energetic public campaign for science that was advanced in Victorian England by such figures as Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer, and John Tyndall. Focusing specifically on Tyndall, Gieryn (pp. 785-786) observed that the Irish physicist constructed these boundaries differently when he was working two different fronts of this campaign. The emerging scientific professions at this time felt threatened by the deeply entrenched power of the Anglican Church, which continued even in the face of science’s rising fortunes to wield considerable influence over faculty positions and curricular decision-making in English universities. But on another front (pp. 786-787) scientists like Tyndall were also wary of the growing power of the technical professions, since these competed with science for patronage and for a hold on the public imagination.

Gieryn observes that Tyndall demarcated science differently on each of these fronts. To show science’s epistemic superiority over technology, the physicist highlighted its purely theoretical powers, but to show its superiority to theology he was disposed to play up its concrete character and applicability. Science was superior to theology because it solved real problems, but it was superior to engineering precisely because it did not. While the pragmatic reasons why this influential scientist would have taken these contradictory stances are evident, Gieryn does not consider the rhetorical costs that demarcation of this kind might have accrued. In fact he does not regard this inconsistency as a problem at all. Tyndall, Gieryn tells us, was not “disingenuous” when he described science differently in various contexts. “It would be reductionistic, “he insists, “to explain these inconsistent parts of a professional ideology merely as fictions conjured up to serve scientists’ interests” (p. 787). This was a “genuine ambivalence” reflecting “an unyielding tension between basic and applied research, and between the empirical and theoretical aspects of inquiry” (p. 787). Of course Gieryn is right about this, but this explanation overlooks the obvious fact that Tyndall communicated these half truths with the intention of deceiving his listeners by masking this very ambivalence. Had the physicist explained this as forthrightly as Gieryn does, he would not have been able to achieve these boundary-work effects, for to acknowledge that science is both theoretical and applied, would be to admit that it cannot be utterly demarcated either from theology or engineering. In wanting to forgive Tyndall’s equivocation, in other words, Gieryn seems to suggest that it is okay to mislead the public, provided that one remains true to science. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – How Newspaper Coverage Transforms Policy Issues Into Character Matters: Debate About A School District’s Test Scores

logo  20061. Introduction
Eliasoph (1998, p. 210) argued that ”Reading the local newspapers . . . did not help citizens make connections between politics and everyday life, did not help them learn about the art of political debate, and inadvertently discouraged them from speaking out in a public-spirited way.” The dominant practice for reporting local events, she opines, tends to drain the political out of whatever is going on. Unlike national and international news, balance is rarely needed for local issues; local activities are presented as factual events rather than as issues that warrant debate and reason-giving. Such a state of affairs, quite often, is NOT the case in local U.S. communities when the issue concerns a school district’s educational policy. In Boulder Valley School District (BVSD), this paper’s focal case, the community’s main newspaper was not fostering apathy. Not only did its news and editorial pages regularly present a variety of debates related to BVSD activities, but on certain occasions the paper became an initiator of a controversy. Such was the case in May of 1997 in the heated discussion about the district’s 4th grade reading test scores that occurred in the newspaper and board meetings.
School board meetings are a particularly American institution, finding their roots in the early 20th century progressive movement that treated education as a community “good,” democratic but not very political, in the same category as, for instance, road repair. A typical board meeting brings together elected officials, citizens, and school staff in a district to make decisions. Meetings also serve as screening sites, using citizen commentary, permitted at certain meeting moments, to identify issues that should become a focus of later board deliberation (Craig & Tracy, 2005).
This study is part of a larger project examining dilemmas and discursive strategies of “ordinary democracy” in local governance groups (Tracy, forthcoming; 1999; Tracy & Ashcraft, Tracy & Muller, 2001).This paper focuses on the controversy about BVSD’s reading test scores. Following a brief overview of the controversy, I describe the arguments forwarded by various BVSD players, organizing them into two lessons that the participants’ discourse teaches about publicly-made education arguments. The chapter concludes by reflecting on the advantages and troubles that the Camera, the community’s local newspaper, encountered in its civic journalism motivated efforts to foster community engagement.

2. The Controversy and Its Discursive Unfolding
The controversy began with a lead editorial in the Sunday newspaper that proclaimed “reading scores are shocking” that went on to inform readers that “Twenty-eight percent of our fourth graders are reading below grade level. More than one out of four. Alarming? You bet. What is going on?” (Camera, 1997, May 18, p. 2E) In the editorial, the 12 schools with the largest percentage of “below grade level” children were identified, along with the exact percent of each school’s students that were below the 50th percentile on the reading section of the California Achievement Test (CAT). Offset in large print in the middle of the editorial was the following assertion: “The problem is fairly obvious: Our schools are doing a lousy job teaching the most important learning and survival skill of all-reading.”
Earlier in the week, board member Riddle had met with the Camera editor Hartman to express her concern about how the district was teaching reading. During the meeting Riddle had shared information about the district’s 1996 reading test scores. The next Sunday an editorial appeared criticizing the district’s teaching of reading. In an interview with Hartman I asked him what role he saw the Camera taking in developing opinions about issues important to the community.

(1) We really feel that we should be totally objective on news pages, but not on the editorial pages. I thin- we’re (KT: okay) we’re we- we’re being paid to try to understand what’s going on and try to offer some guidance and leadership. And that’s what we do on the editorial pages. But we also provide the whole open forum for the public to respond. For the school board to respond and for uh people writing letters to respond.

In addition to the “lousy job” assertion noted above, five additional claims were contested by one or another party in letters, opinion pieces, and in the subsequent May meeting:
(1) “Riddle may be on to something” for favoring a “nuts-and-bolts” philosophy” and worrying that the “new educational theories may be doing more harm than good.”
(2) 28% of the district’s kids are reading below grade level.
(3) High Peaks Elementary, a core knowledge program that had zero percent of students reading below age level, has teachers that “are doing something unique” that “is worth modeling in more schools.”
(4) Those who might say scores are not alarming, since they are better than most districts in Colorado, are wrong.
(5) District shouldn’t let a “hundred more students slip though the cracks”. . . ”the mandate is to do something, and to do it now.”

Two days later, and the day before a regularly scheduled board meeting, a news article appeared reporting the reading scores with a table listing the percentage of students below the 50th and 34th percentiles at each of the district’s 30 elementary schools (Taylor, 1997). In addition, the article had a picture of board president Hult followed by a quote saying “If I were an elementary school parent, I would not be comfortable having my child go to a school where somewhere between 30 and 55 percent of kids are not reading at grade level.” At the school board meeting the next night, “reading program and achievement” was an agenda item up for discussion toward the end of the meeting. This meeting brought 37 citizens out to speak and lasted 7 hours. In the weeks following this meeting, the editorial pages of the Camera were full of letters to the editor and opinion pieces, as well as a second editorial by the Camera. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – A Bottom-Up Approach To Argument Schemes: The Case Of Comparative Argument

logo  2006The question of the internal structure of argumentation and the identification of the various argument schemes constitutes a central stake for argumentation studies. Analyzing argumentation requires that the analyst adopts a somewhat acrobatic but necessary median position in order to place himself at an intermediate level, between the “letter” of the argumentation (its very content, which is proper to a specific (text/discourse) and its “logical” structure (its possible translation into a general logical scheme, which misses most of the substance of the argumentation).
Distributing the various arguments we may be confronted to into general schemes, according to the nature of the relation which links the argument to the conclusion allows to distance oneself from the literal and specific content of an argumentative discourse in order to gain in abstraction. It then becomes possible to compare various argumentative speeches, dealing with various subject matters, but susceptible to mobilize argumentative strategies resorting to similar configurations of argument schemes.
Nevertheless, at the moment, researchers in the field of argumentation studies, and maybe in particular in the French-speaking sphere, have no systematic, coherent typology of argument schemes at their disposal.
The reference typologies are mostly directly inspired by that proposed by C. Perelman and L. Olbrechts-Tyteca. Their classification may be of great help because of the variety of the argument schemes it comprises (and because of the associated definitions), but it is weakened by a lack of coherence in the proposed classification criteria and therefore, by the heterogeneousness of the categories considered as argument schemes. Beyond these theoretical difficulties, the application of the model – trying to identify argument schemes used by arguers in everyday discussions – is far from being simple.

This paper will focus on a broad group of arguments defined by the fact that they are based on a comparison process. More precisely, on the basis of a similarity between two cases, such arguments focus on a characteristic of the case which constitutes the analogue, or the source, or phoros of the comparison, and extend it to the second case, which constitutes the primary subject, or thema, or target, of the argumentation.
In order to avoid the trap mentioned by Christian Plantin, who claims that “any proposition of synthesis of existing typologies finally results in an additional typology” (2005, p. 50), this paper will be limited to a non-exhaustive inventory of several parameters identified in various academic works, parameters which permit a sub-categorization of arguments based on a comparison.
Considering that an argument scheme is associated with a set of specific critical questions, we will test the relevance of such a sub-classification of comparative arguments for ordinary arguers. We will then investigate whether speakers, when engaged in an argumentative discussion, use “wide-spectrum” refutation strategies in order to counter an opponent’s comparison, or whether they use specific refutation strategies according to the sub-type they are confronted with.

1. Sub-classifications within comparative arguments.
1.1.A first distinctive feature which introduces a sub-classification in the group of arguments based on a comparison opposes:
– comparisons which parallel situations or cases issued from two heterogeneous domains of knowledge (see, for instance, a beautiful example from C.S. Lewis, quoted by Govier (2001, p.350-351):
“You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act – that is, to watch a girl undress on stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre simply by bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?)”:
– to comparisons which parallel situations from the same domain of knowledge (most of the comparisons of the a pari type seem to belong this category ; see the example quoted by Garssen (1994, p.106):
“You should give Miriam an expensive birthday present, because on Alice’s birthday you also gave her an expensive present”. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Argumentation And Education: Preparing Citizens In Cultures Of Democratic Communication

logo  2006In classical democracy, John Quincy Adams once declared, “eloquence was POWER.” Adams believed that eloquence had been dormant since Cicero until the American Revolution, when the rebirth of freedom and democracy “fostered the reinvigoration of the lost art of political eloquence” (Gustafson, pp. xiii-xiv). In his “inaugural address as the first Boylston Chair of Rhetoric and Oratory at Harvard University” in 1805 (Gustafson, p. xiii), Adams stressed the centrality of rational discursive processes to republican government: “Under governments purely republican, where every citizen has a deep interest in the affairs of the nation, and, in some form of public assembly or other, has the means and opportunity of delivering his opinion, and of communicating his sentiments by speech; where government itself has no arms but those of persuasion; where prejudice has not yet acquired an uncontroled (sic) ascendancy, and faction is yet confined within the barriers of peace; the voice of eloquence will not be heard in vain” (Adams, Lectures on Rhetoric and Oratory, pp. 30-31; qtd. in Gustafson, p. xiii).
Adams was speaking directly of rhetoric in ancient Athens and of rhetoric’s importance in the new American republic; however, his insight is applicable to democracies in general: governance of the people, for the people, by the people is attainable only through rhetorical arts and skills. Public deliberation about choices of future actions, judgments of past actions, and commemorations of moments of public unity or renewal occur under conditions of uncertainty, where determinations are at best probable. Throughout history, flourishing democracy and robust public argumentation and rhetoric have been cognates: they share the same essence and sustain each other in the give-and-take of public deliberation. Together they forge what we have termed “cultures of democratic communication.” Open societies have been hallmarks of public deliberative disputation; conversely, closed societies have stifled both public deliberation and rhetorical training.

Although advocacy skills have been and remain essential for citizens in democracies, modern republican forms of democracy typically cast most citizens in the role of argument critics, evaluating the public deliberations and expressing judgment through candidate, party, or proposition choice. Skills in both advocacy and critical evaluation are therefore important requisites for citizens in a democratic culture, and consequently development of such skills should be important components of educational objectives in democracies. Writing of his experiences as President of the Sierra Club, J. Robert Cox noted:
Without the ability to challenge misleading claims, reasoning, or bias in the testimony of special interests, green advocates would lose meaningful opportunities to hold elected officials accountable or to expose potentially harmful practices to the wider public. The ability to demand “good reasons” or to question the credibility of political leaders or industry lobbyists’ claims often have been the only means which public interest advocates have for the redress of environmental degradation. (p. 82)

In this paper, we argue,
1. democratic governance and free, open deliberative rhetoric are co-dependent;
2. argumentation skills (advocacy, analysis, criticism) are not naturally occurring phenomena, and certainly not in large population aggregates;
3. systematic inclusion of argumentation and criticism in educational curricula can further the growth of a culture of democratic communication in all democracies.

Specifically, we will argue for an “argumentational approach” to education that incorporates concerns with justification, evidence, and reasoning across specific disciplinary boundaries.

1. Democracy and deliberative rhetoric are co-dependent
If rhetoric is considered, as Weaver puts it, “in the whole conspectus of its function” (pp. 1354-1355), then we view phrases such as “rhetorical democracy” (see Hauser) as redundant: rhetoric and democracy are innately cognates. It is only when rhetoric is shorn of aspects of its function, such as invention or its deliberative dimension, that it survives in truncated form in a non-democratic, closed political system. It regains its full vitality, or at least the potential for its full vitality, when the system is again open, when the citizens have the freedom to participate in their own self-governance in meaningful ways. Hauser identifies two communication requisites for such ‘openness’: what he terms the “principle of publicity and the principle of free speech”:
The publicity principle holds that a society has the right to assess all relevant information and viewpoints on public problems. As a corollary, it holds that a member of society has the right to call society’s attention to matters that he or she regards as public concerns. The principle of free speech holds that a person has the right to express his or her opinion without being subjected to legal penalties. From these two principles we can elaborate a more complete statement of basic rights protected by law and the necessary structures of public policy that guarantee a well-functioning liberal democratic state. Publicity and free speech are the sine qua non for those necessary guarantees to have effect and on which they ultimately rest. (6) Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – Against Making The Linked-Convergent Distinction

logo  20061. Introduction
The intuition guiding the avowed distinction between linked and convergent argument structures is easy enough to grasp – in various arguments some of the premises appear to link together to form a single reason for the conclusion, while other premises appear to constitute separate reasons which independently converge on the conclusion. Though the intuition is easy enough to grasp, as James Freeman has recently pointed out: “the problem of clearly distinguishing linked from convergent argument structure has proven vexing.” (Freeman 2001, p. 397) Indeed, the question remains whether the intuition truly captures a real distinction.
In recent work, I have argued against one of the top contenders for how to make the linked-convergent distinction. (Goddu 2003) Here I shall argue against making the distinction at all. In section 2, I shall sketch out the problem and briefly discuss why the problem has proven so vexing. My suspicion is that the problem is vexing because it is impossible to solve. I shall not, however, attempt to prove that here. Instead, in section 3, I shall argue that, even if we grant there is a distinction to be made, there is no good reason to bother making the distinction. In particular, I shall present and rebut the three reasons that have been given to justify making the distinction.

2. Preliminaries
Suppose we have a given set of premises {P1, …., Pn}, for a given conclusion C. If we are interested in this argument’s structure, we are interested in how to partition {P1, …., Pn} into subsets. Each subset is a reason for the conclusion. If a subset contains more than one premise, then those premises are linked and at least part of the argument’s structure is linked. If a subset contains exactly one premise, then that premise is independent and at least part of the argument’s structure is convergent.[i]
Solving the problem of argument structure, then, is just a matter of finding some relation that accurately partitions the set of premises into sets of reasons. In particular, premises linked by the relation are in the same reason set and premises not so linked are not in the same reason set. The most plausible candidate for this relation is some articulation of ‘dependent support’. To see this, consider the ways various authors try to articulate the notion of linked – “each of which needs the other to support the conclusion” (Thomas 1986, p. 58); “each premise is somehow incomplete in itself” (Freeman 2001, pp. 397-98); “the premises work together as a logical unit in such a way that the amount of support offered by one or more premises is dependent on the other(s).” (Bassham 2003, p. 69)

So why is the problem of clearly articulating the linking relation so vexing? Firstly, there is little consensus on what conditions an adequate version of the distinction must satisfy. For example, is an adequate linking relation one that, in principle at least, would allow us to partition the premise set of any argument? On the one hand, the failure of a given proposal to assign a structure to various cases has been used as a reason to reject that proposal. On the other hand, Douglas Walton and Robert Yanal explicitly reject this ‘completeness’ requirement in defense of their preferred proposal. But without some consensus on even moderately clear conditions of successfully solving the problem of argument structure, the problem is going to remain intractable.
Secondly, there are numerous distinct and sometimes conflicting intuitions involved in the crucial concepts of ‘support’ and ‘dependence/independence’. On the one hand, the notion of support is often left unexplicated such that theorists rely upon their various intuitions to decide whether one statement supports another. [I fully admit that I will provide no improvement on this situation in this paper.] On the other hand, the various explications of the ‘dependence/independence’ of that support clearly show that there are multiple incompatible intuitions in play. For example, does it even make sense to talk in terms of one premise ‘influencing’ the support that another premise provides to the conclusion? Many say ‘yes’, but some say ‘no’ and the proposals for making the linked/convergent distinction differ accordingly. Even among those who say yes, intuitions differ over (a) whether the influence has to be zero for a premise to be independent or whether is just has to be below some (vague and unspecified) threshold, or (b) whether the influence has to be total for a premise to be dependent or whether it just has to be above some (vague and unspecified) threshold. With no clear set of success conditions available, adjudicating these differences in intuitions and the proposals that result from them is problematic at best.

While the lack of clear adequacy conditions and the multiplicity of candidate dependence/independence concepts might be reasons for us to suspect that there is no viable linked/convergent distinction to make, they certainly do not prove there is no such distinction. Indeed, without a set of clear success conditions one can neither demonstrate that some proposal for the linking relation is adequate nor demonstrate that no proposal will be adequate. In order to refute the possibility of a coherent linked/convergent distinction, one would need to show that no proposal works for any plausible set of success conditions – a task I certainly cannot hope to undertake here. Instead I shall adopt another strategy. Putting aside my own suspicions that there is no coherent distinction to be made, I shall argue that regardless of whether there is a coherent distinction, there is no utility in making the distinction. The work we want to do in evaluating arguments can be done equally well without making the distinction. Hence, we ought not make it. I turn to the details of this argument now. Read more

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ISSA Proceedings 2006 – The U.S. And The World: The Unexpressed Premises Of American Exceptionalism

logo  2006On June 21, 2006, while attending a conference with leaders of the European Union, U.S. President George W. Bush met with reporters in Vienna. Asked by one European reporter about a poll suggesting that many Europeans regarded the United States as a greater threat to peace and stability than North Korea, the President, in apparent irritation, responded, “That’s absurd!” (Stolberg, 2006, p. A14). Mr. Bush literally could not imagine how what he called post-September 11 thinking could threaten anyone, just as his questioner probably could not imagine how the President of the United States could seem to disregard the concerns of the Old World.
This episode illustrates in microcosm the problem I wish to discuss. It can be safely stipulated that recent years have seen a rather sharp discontinuity between American and European attitudes about the place of the U.S. in the world. Although it is tempting to do so, I cannot attribute this discrepancy merely to the character of the current President or to national differences in interpretation of the tragedy of September 11. Rather, it is the most recent manifestation of a long-standing tension in the discourse of U.S. foreign policy.
The claim I wish to advance is that American arguments about the U.S. role in the world frequently contain a premise, often unstated because widely accepted across American culture, that is not supported by many in other lands and indeed that would be offensive if it were made more explicit. Hence what functions successfully as an enthymeme in U.S. domestic discourse often falls flat when U.S. representatives attempt to defend their policies for an international audience.
The premise of which I speak is American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Usually there is more to it than this stark statement. Being different, Americans do not see themselves as properly subject to the same norms and rules that govern others, and they are not prepared to acknowledge that the experience of other nations is necessarily relevant to them. Moreover, for many, the implication of saying that the U.S. is different is that it is better, for reasons that I will discuss.
Lest there be any doubt, I should make clear that my goal is neither to defend nor to attack this premise, but to explain its deep resonance in American culture and to assess its implications for public argument.

1. Dimensions of American exceptionalism
The historian Thomas Bender recently has argued that the development of the United States can be seen in the context of larger global patterns of cultural development and expansion during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Bender, 2006, pp. B6-B8). The dominant perspective by which Americans understand their history, however, is to focus on their national distinctiveness. On this view, such events as the settlement of the North American continent by European powers, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War are epochal in nature, marking a distinct “before” and “after” and distinguishing the American experience from contemporaneous events elsewhere. The recent claim by President Bush that “for Europe, September the 11th was a moment; for us, it was a change of thinking” (Stolberg, 2006, p. A14) is only the latest example of this tendency toward epochal thinking.

American exceptionalism could be understood as just a descriptive matter, an acknowledgment that in some respects the United States is different from other nations. That is the approach taken, for example, by Seymour Martin Lipset, who finds the U.S. in a superior relative position in some respects and a weaker one in others (Lipset, 1996). Moreover, Lipset contends, the relative strengths and weaknesses emanate from the same factors in American culture. But this is a tamer version of exceptionalism than is common in public discourse.
In general usage, “exceptionalism” has the meaning of “chosenness,” of having been selected (presumably by God) to play a distinct role on the stage of history. On this reading, of course, exceptionalism implies not just difference but superiority. Americans are unlike other people because they have been given a special mission to fulfill. God is with them, guiding and directing them. President Bush’s first inaugural address was explicit on this point, citing Thomas Jefferson’s belief that an angel is guiding the U.S. ship of state through the storm. Read more

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