Arguing in a way that responding challenges my thinking

Posted on October 4, 2012

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Jeffrey Bardzell makes some really interesting points in his recent discussion on the nature of peer reviewing of argument papers.  I agree with his approach to reviewing essays, but that is not why I’m writing this post.

Jeffrey argues that we should look beyond the usual normative criteria to judge argument/essay papers:

Do I agree with the essay (or argument paper)?
Is this argument convincing?
Is the author fully justified in making that argument?
Did the author cite every author or theory that I would have, were I making this argument?

Instead, Jeffrey proposes alternative questions:

  • Is a coherent (if not ultimately “correct”) position put forward, that is, a clear and non-universal point of view, perspective, or authorial voice?
  • Is the position put forward interesting to [some relevant portion of] the HCI community? Is there any practical benefit for researchers or designers in HCI to have this sort of position available in our collective library?
  • Is the treatment of the position authoritative, that is, well informed, substantially developed, and insightful?
  • Does the position make a controversial concept, theory, or perspective more plausible or at least better worked out than it had been before (even if it ultimately fails to persuade)?
  • Does the position challenge your own thinking productively? Or how people commonly think in [some relevant portion of] HCI?
  • If you are inclined to formulate a response (e.g., by expressing how you disagree with this position), does your response push you to clarify your own positions and thinking in original ways (even if you disagreed with the position)?
  • Does the position offer the possibility of a new way of thinking about a relevant problem?
  • Does the position provide new resources, such as new concepts, technical definitions, canonical examples, categorization schemes, and/or distinctions that make our work as researchers and designers more productive or valuable?
  • Does the position shed new light on familiar examples?
  • Does the position reveal the importance of, or give us new reason to look at, hitherto overlooked examples?
  • Does the position propose a new way of categorizing or classifying examples, and is the categorization itself interesting or important independent of what the position specifically does with it?
  • Does the position help you or [some portion of] the HCI audience appreciate something of interest to the community as more complex, more successful, more problematic, etc., than it is normally considered to be?

I really like this approach.

First, it aligns with one of my favourite essays, that of Robert Root-Bernstein  who argued that science is not a search for solutions but a search for answerable questions – it must become acceptable to say “I don’t know”

Science is a way of asking more and more meaningful questions. The answers are important mainly in leading us to new questions. So try to learn some answers, because they are useful and interesting, but don’t forget that it isn’t answers that make a scientist, it’s questions.”

Bernstein challenges educators to train student to raise answerable questions that no one has ever asked (and we’re not going to achieve that by always getting them to answer questions to which we already have answers).

Second, I wonder if these questions can be backcast to design principles – particularly for sustainable interaction design.   The Sustainable Lens is based upon the notion of going beyond the simple reduction of marginal resource use, and beyond persuasion as the primary tool.  But other than perhaps vague notions of participation and criticality, we don’t really have much to replace persuasion.    This question from Jeffrey has me thinking:

If you are inclined to formulate a response (e.g., by expressing how you disagree with this position), does your response push you to clarify your own positions and thinking in original ways (even if you disagreed with the position)?

This is crucially different from merely disagreeing with a statement – or to be more precise, from an argument that is stated in such as way that it invokes a simple disagreement (or even agreement) response.  How might this goal of stating something in a way that pushes me to challenge my own position be translated to sustainable interaction design?

 

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