Thursday, November 24, 2016

"I disagree!"

One of my (halting) works in progress.
A bit of backstory on what led me to this point, and to my dialogue with you. I've been thinking about thinking (and communication, especially the chronically widespread lack of it) for a very long time. Beginning with my days as a young child, I've always read voraciously (much gratitude to my late parents for inculcating the habit early on), and growing up I listened intently as my parents and relatives loudly argued about politics -- particularly during the always-raucous, stereotypical holiday dinners.
I became acutely politically aware and attentive, I guess, around the age of 20 or so (circa 1966). It was a time of intense divisions in our nation (with controversies over civil rights, race, and the Vietnam war chiefly among them). I followed current events closely, subscribed to a number of national political periodicals, and always had a book or two underway.
At the age of 34, after 16 years straight out of high school spent playing guitar on the road for a "living," I commenced undergraduate studies at the University of Tennessee in 1980, enrolling as an advertising major. I'd already done a lot of self-directed study at my local library in Knoxville on the principles and techniques of persuasive communication that drive advertising (I was drawn to the field by the intersection of business, technology, applied psychology, and creativity).
I was pretty adept with 35mm photography (I had my own darkroom at home; nowadays I do it all digitally). A musician colleague of mine who was also an architect had taught me a lot about visual layout and design (my having taken three years of drafting classes in high school didn't hurt). My informal study of the elements of advertising communications persuaded me that I should finally go to college to dive in deeply, in part to finally have something of employment value to put in a resume. An exec at a local ad agency exhorted me to do so.
Knowing my working musician days (or, as my wife called it, "working in the not-for-profit sector") were numbered, I initially thought I'd go into "business to business/corporate-industrial" advertising work once I obtained a degree. I took classes in advertising design, copywriting, TV production, and film design early on in my university days. I also took wonderful courses in Deductive Logic, Inductive Logic (the latter snarky course subtitle was "Lying with Statistics"), and Philosophy of Science. Those were quite the pleasant awakening for me.
The Advertising Department within the Tennessee College of Communications, though, was totally consumer-focused, and I had little interest in learning better ways to sell soap, fast food, appliances, and automobiles. So, I eventually settled on a dual course of study in Statistics and Psychology. I thrived.
I signed up for a class in "Social Psychology" at the start of one spring quarter. The instructor was a doctoral student "GTA" (Graduate Teaching Assistant), Michael K. Smith. Instead of handing out a syllabus, he simply wrote the title of the required text on the chalkboard, and then opened the floor to take suggestions about how we should be graded, saying it would be up to us.

Pandemonium ensued in short order. Reaching even a shaky consensus consumed the entire first class session. The debate got heated at various points.

He was making a sly point about the nuances of the psychology of being "social" (well, "communicating"), and its inherent difficulties. Everyone had come in expecting to just be told what was expected, told what to do in order to get whatever grade they thought they'd be satisfied with. The collective consternation that day was a sight to behold.

I pretty much just sat back and chuckled. I got the joke. Mike and I eventually became good friends (lasting to this day), and eventually, after he got his doctorate (for which I served as one of his undergrad researchers), we became business partners in a startup audio-video "exam cram" test preparation production and marketing company (which we eventually closed after I moved to Las Vegas in 1992).
During my final semester in undergraduate school, I took an extremely interesting course entitled "Senior Seminar in the Psychology of Law." It was taught by a Psychology Department professor (Psych Department Chair at the time, actually) who had also earned a law degree while doing research into the psychology of eyewitness testimony (which made him a PhD/JD). It was in that class that I first heard (from a class guest speaker attorney) the trial lawyer's fundamental axiom: "he with the best story wins."
Shortly thereafter, my initial job out of undergraduate school in January of 1986 was that of a quality control statistician and programmer in an environmental radiation laboratory in Oak Ridge under the direction of acclaimed nuclear scientist John A. Auxier, PhD, CHP (so much for the anticipated corporate-industrial ad career). Much of our work was performed to a "forensic" standard, meaning that the laboratory's results would be used as evidence in litigation (e.g., contamination and dose/exposure cases) and regulatory enforcement actions. I spent more than five years there participating in excellent analytical science under the best of mentors, co-authoring several technical papers across my time there (see I learned a thing or two during my lab days about being extremely careful with computer coding and numerical results, lest i find myself sweating under Oath on a witness stand anxiously defending the accuracy of my work under intense cross-examination.
Fast forward a number of years. I started in graduate school in 1994 after working for a time as a Medicare hospitalization analyst, intending to pursue a Master's degree in Statistics, but soon switched over to an intriguing program known as "Ethics and Policy Studies" ("EPS," a unique interdisciplinary liberal arts course of study comprised of economics, political science, law, and applied philosophy). It played to my analytical writing strengths, as well as my long-standing interests in policy and political affairs.
It was there I absorbed the skills involved in honest and effective "argument analysis" (e.g., see my first grad school paper, an analytical, logic flow-charting deconstruction of the 1994 JAMA health care "Single Payer" argument [pdf] ). I also became steeped in the historical and contemporary literature of "applied ethics," — "doing the right things" beyond simply "doing things right."
Not long after completing graduate school, I was invited to join the part-time evening adjunct faculty at my local community college and university (my day job at the time was that of a risk analyst in a bank) to teach undergraduate courses in "critical thinking" as well as the EPS graduate seminar in "argument analysis." It was great fun. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
One of my opening lines at the beginning of each semester was to pose an introductory observation and question in class:
[1] "Once you've decided (i.e. 'persuaded' yourself) that 'x' is true or false, good or bad, right or wrong, you can't 'unring that bell.' It will be tough to admit that perhaps you were wrong. You will usually be inclined to dig in your heels and defend yourself vigorously, even in the face of new and contrary evidence. So, it serves you well to slow down and fully evaluate the evidence prior to making decisions."
And, [2] "Critical, analytical thinking is fundamental and necessary, of course, but what if your logic is airtight, and your accompanying facts and evidence are bulletproof, yet you don't win others over to your argument? What then? What have you really accomplished?
That latter rhetorical query goes to "persuasion." Selling your brands of soap, fast food, appliances, and automobiles (or socioeconomic/political propositions) to skeptical prospective buyers.
What's the joke? There are some people who can "sell ice cubes to Eskimos" (e.g., the iconic, overbearingly relentless car dealership "manager" or the "Time Share Closer"). How does that work? It turns out that we in fact know a good bit about how it works. The techniques are teachable (and worth knowing if only to protect yourself).
Conversely, a lot of us seem to be often unable to "make the case" despite having the solid, superior rational argument. The good news here is that we can significantly sharpen those sell-the-ice-cubes communications skills with a bit of tactical education and subsequent consistent effort.
In recent years, I have worked again in the medical field, helping physicians and their staffs convert from the paper chart documentation method to electronic medical record systems. These software systems are extremely complex and controversial, with some clinicians arguing that they impede their work and decision-making processes. I've had to undertake deep study of the training, cognitive abilities, and diagnostic methods of physicians -- "How Doctors Think" (there's an excellent book by Jerome Groopman, MD with that title) -- as well as the thought processes of other "subject matter experts," in order to ferret out tactics that can help clients become better decisionmakers. I delve into a lot of these issues on my blog.
Effective, sustained "critical thinking" coupled with successful rational advocacy ("persuasiveness") are of particular importance in high-stakes fields such as medicine, various other applied sciences, and engineering (not to mention national and international governance, where misunderstandings can result in war or other tragedies). However, I argue also that it's equally important for all of us ordinary citizens to become better critical thinkers and constructively persuasive communicators to help each other get to truths large and small and put issues to rest. There will never be any shortage of disputes to resolve.
Moreover, beyond resolving disputes of opinion between people on the never-ending issues of the day, there will also never be a shortage of hucksters out to "get over on you" and separate you from your money in ways that don't really benefit you (it's happened to me more times than I'd care to admit). Critical thinking helps keep you from "getting played."
So, speaking generally, "problem-solving" is everyone's business. And, problem-solving, beyond demanding the ability to separate facts from fallacies, often requires productive communication and cooperation.
It takes work. It's worth the effort.
What follows is intended to provide you with the necessary tools, tactics, and resources with which to become an effective communicator -- both a clear thinker and a compelling persuader.
Coming Q2 2021 (one hopes), along with this one. Copyright © 2021 by Bobby Gladd, All Rights Reserved.


I always took pains to point out my students early on that many arguments founder on a lack of commonly agreed-to definitions of key terms. People consequently end up "talking past" each other, essentially arguing differing propositions that use key terms in differing ways. 

It is quite common in litigation for the contending parties to "stipulate" to not only certain facts of a case that are not at issue, but to the definitions of key terms as well. Such is also common in scholarly papers, which frequently set forth definitions of key terms and phrases as used in the authors' arguments. My 1994 JAMA Single Payer argument paper, for example, began with a three page glossary of key words and phrases.

My old undergraduate logic textbook from 1980, Copi's "Introduction to Logic" (still available in an updated edition) devotes an entire 36-page chapter (Chapter 4) to the basic elements of and issues going to "definition."

From Copi, Chapter 4:
Five Purposes of Definition
1. To increase Vocabulary
2. To Eliminate Ambiguity
3. To Reduce Vagueness
4. To Explain Theoretically
5. To Influence Attitudes
Five Types of Definition
1. Stipulative Definitions
2. Lexical Definitions
3. Precising Definitions
4. Theoretical Definitions
5. Persuasive Definitions
Techniques for Defining
1. Denotative Definitions
2. Connotative Definitions
Rules for Definition by Genus and Difference
1. A definition should state the essential attributes of the species
2. A definition must not be circular
3. A definition must be neither too broad nor too narrow
4. A definition must not be expressed in ambiguous , obscure, or figurative language
5. A definition should not be negative where it can be affirmative.
A lot of important detail in that chapter. Suffice it to say here that attention to -- and consensus on -- clear definition is foundational to clear, productive argument.

What about the very word "argument"? The word "argument" pertains to both a "thing" ("we're having an argument" -- meaning a "disagreement") and a "process" -- an assemblage of "because-therefore" statements intended to move us toward resolution of an issue and getting us toward useful, agreed-upon truth. Such statements are typically known as "truth claims," where the "claim" part is something to be rationally evaluated and either accepted of rejected based on the strength of the evidence.

If I state that "I prefer chocolate ice cream to all other flavors," for example, we can simply take it at face value. It is indeed a "claim," but we can just take it as a "true" expression of my personal taste, what we'd call a "value statement." If, on the other hand, I claim that "chocolate ice cream is the best of all flavors," we'd probably respond with "according to whom, by what criteria?"

"Definition," as set forth in the Wiki:
"A definition is a statement of the meaning of a term (a word, phrase, or other set of symbols). Definitions can be classified into two large categories, intensional definitions (which try to give the essence of a term) and extensional definitions (which proceed by listing the objects that a term describes). Another important category of definitions is the class of ostensive definitions, which convey the meaning of a term by pointing out examples. A term may have many different senses and multiple meanings, and thus require multiple definitions."
One of the often tedious problems you run into when defining terms is that words are necessarily defined using other words, sometimes leaving you with potentially lengthy chasing-your-tail clarification issues. Nonetheless, resolution of the issues comprising arguments requires clarity of the usage of core terms.


My short take:
From another of my blogs.


Click to enlarge to read the fine print. Complex, lengthy arguments are really just composed of chains of basic "assuming-despite-if-then-therefore" sub-argument components comprised of truth claims.


What's up with this?
Principle of charity
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The principle of charity is a methodological presumption made in seeking to understand a point of view whereby we seek to understand that view in its strongest, most persuasive form before subjecting the view to evaluation.

In philosophy and rhetoric, the principle of charity requires interpreting a speaker's statements to be rational and, in the case of any argument, considering its best, strongest possible interpretation. In its narrowest sense, the goal of this methodological principle is to avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others' statements, when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available...
Goes to the late Steve Covey's often-cited "seek first to understand, then to be understood." In a word: "empathy" (understanding another's point of view). Some arguments are simple and clear. Many are neither simple nor clear. You have to truly understand someone's argument before you can honestly and accurately evaluate it. Coming to that understanding can often be tedious and difficult, but it's vital nonetheless in order to avoid simply "talking past each other."


Verbosity. Redundancy. "Language bloat." Enemies of clear thinking and communication. All they do is add "noise" to the communications "signal." Consider the brief statement "it is raining." When I lived in Knoxville, our chirpy local CBS affiliate newscast "meteorologist" would instead say things such as "currently, at this present time, we now have shower activity in our viewing area."

Groan. I'm not making that up.

Google "list of redundancies." The lists are many, long, and head-shakingly funny.

And unhelpful to effective thinking and argument.
Beyond "language bloat" verbosity and redundancies are other examples of the careless thinking that begets sloppy use of language. As I drove across the Chapman Highway bridge into downtown Knoxville many years ago, I would see a prominent billboard off to my right extolling an upscale restaurant, touting it as "A New Dining Tradition." The copywriter who wrote that had either no clue or no concern regarding the definition of the word "tradition." It was simply a cute, catchy phrase that looked good in a stylish three-foot high font.

I probably would not have lasted long in that ad agency. 

This is the essence of how an effective trial attorney argues methodically in a courtroom. Many of us rhetorically untrained civilians, however, are prone to wander all over the map, repeating ourselves, sometimes contradicting ourselves, and frequently cluttering up our arguments with irrelevant rhetorical "noise," making it more difficult to determine the point of our assertions...

More to come.


Is there such a thing as a "science of deliberation?" Do we all share the same understanding of the meaning of the word "science?"

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What is "The Critical Thinking Clinic"

'The Critical Thinking Clinic"[TM] -- an intentional "double play" on words.
  1. With regard to commercial and not-for-profit organizations generally, this is an undertaking to efficiently and effectively instill "Critical Thinking" tactics and tools for improvement via sharper thinking and decision making. We immerse you in an intensive interactive course in all essential aspects of the topic.
  2. With respect to health care clinics and institutions specifically, we bring to you "Critical Thinking" tactics and tools tailored to the uniquely complex demands of the medical sphere (wherein I have spent much of the past 20 years). We likewise immerse you in an intensive interactive crash cart course in all essential aspects of the topic of particular relevance and application to your vitally important work.