My Rules of Debate

I drafted these rules to give people notice of how I approach internet debates.   If you violate these rules I will ban you.  Obviously, on other message boards, I do not have the power to stop anyone from postings or remove their posts.  Thus, when I ban you, what I mean is that I will stop reading or responding to your posts.  Anyway, here are the rules:

Rule 1  No strawmen.  While debating, you are not allowed to misrepresent what I say.  Similarly, I will not misrepresent your position.  If you state or imply that my position is different from what I have actually said, I will call on you to ’show me where I said it.’  You must either do so or own up and apologize.  Otherwise I will ban you.

Similarly, if you argue against a position which I do not dispute — while pretending to be contradicting me, you are attacking a straw man.

Another form of strawmanning is to interpret my statements in an unreasonable way.  For example, if I claim that men are taller than women, it would be unreasonable to interpret this as a claim that every man is taller than every woman.  Or if I claim that smoking has been proven to cause lung cancer, I am obviously talking about proof in the scientific sense — not in a mathematical or logical sense.  If you interpret my words unreasonably, I will correct you and you will be expected to to continue the discussion using the correct interpretation.

In addition, if I make a claim which is unclear or open to misinterpretation and subsequently clarify my position, you must argue against the clarified position.  If I abandon a claim either because I think I was wrong or I am doing so for the sake of argument, you are strawmanning if you continue to argue against that claim.

Rule 2.  No weaseling.  While debating, you are not allowed to misrepresent your own claims or pretend to have said something different from what you actually said.  Similarly, I will not misrepresent my own statements.  If I point out that you are weaseling, you must own up to it or be banned.  Weaseling also includes misrepresenting the statements of other people on your side of a debate.

A more subtle form of weaseling is if you pretend that you asked a different question than the one you asked or made a different request from the one you made.  Similar consequences apply.

Rule 3  Coherency.  While debating, I must be able to understand your points if I am to consider them and respond to them.  This is not a classroom and you are not my teacher.  Nor am I your teacher.  Thus, you are not allowed to leave points ambiguous for some claimed pedagogical purpose (or any other reason).  Similarly, I will make points as clearly as I reasonably can.  You must answer reasonable questions to help me understand your position.  If you evade or ignore those questions, I will ban you.  Similarly, I will answer reasonable questions about my position.

Further, if your posts are consistently incoherent, I will ban you.  If you feel that my posts are consistently incoherent, you are free to stop reading them.

Rule 4 Citations.

(a) You are free to ask me for a citation for a point I have made, but it must be on a point you are seriously skeptical about.  For example, if I claim that men are on average taller than women and you demand a cite, you must first represent to me that you are seriously skeptical that men are on average taller than women.

(b) If you are providing a cite that a particular person or entity made a particular claim, you must quote the actual language in question.  I will try to do the same.

Rule 5 Personal insults.  No personal insults or intemperate language.   However, if you insult me in a forum where flames are permitted, I may ignore it.  Or throw something back at you.

Rule 6 Spelling flames.  If you start flaming my spelling, grammar, or the like, I will probably conclude that you are conceding.

Rule 7 Examples.  If you make a general statement or observation, I may require you to provide examples.  For example, if you claim that numerous species have gone extinct due to global warming, I may require you to name or 3 examples of such species.  Similarly, upon request, I will provide examples of general statements I make.

Rule 8 Meta-Debate.  If you want to move the debate up a level, you must first explain exactly why you want to do so and you must also lay out your own position on the meta-issue.  For example, if you want to discuss my motivations in discussing an issue, you must explain exactly why you want to do so (as opposed to simply discussing the underlying issue) as well as your own motivations for discussing the issue.

Rule 9 Badge-flashing   If we are debating on a message board where you have moderator or administrative type powers, you are not allowed to exercise your powers in an abusive, unfair or biased way.

Rule 10 You cannot violate these rules directly or indirectly.

Rule 11 Assume Good Faith  You must assume that I am arguing in good faith and give me a chance to fix any problems.  I will do the same for you.  For example, if you believe I have misrepresented your position, you should tell me so and give me a chance to correct any misinterpretation.  I will do the same for you.

Rule 12 Questioning and Skepticism All evidence presented in a debate is subject to questioning and skepticism regardless of how personal it is.  It is not reasonable for you to claim superior personal knowledge and then take offense if I question your knowledge or express skepticism about your claims.  You opened the door.  If you insist that such questioning or skepticism is out of bounds, then I will not consider your personal evidence one way or another.  Or I will ban you.

I may add other rules as time goes by, but that’s it for now.


7 Responses to “My Rules of Debate”

  1. brazil84 Says:

    On October 2, 2008, on the Straight Dope Message Board, I banned the poster known as “********” for making an unprovoked insult in a forum for debating.

    “Oh, wait. You’re brazil84 and derailing threads is pretty much all you ever do. Silly me.”

  2. brazil84 Says:

    On October 2, 2008, on the Straight Dope Message Board, I banned the poster known as “******” for weaseling and then failing to acknowledge the same.

    His original comment: “I also believe that a nation who can do that [put a man on the moon] has a greater obligation and responsibility to provide for its people than a nation who is dirt poor. ”

    After I pointed out that the US does in fact provide better for its people than dirt poor nations, he decided to weasel by omitting the “dirt poor” qualification without acknowledging it:

    “But in many cases not better than countries which did not put a human on the moon which was my point and the point you were responding to.”

    After I called upon him to acknowledge his change in position, he responded (among other things): “And I have my ass right here should you wish to kiss it.”

  3. brazil84 Says:

    On October 14, 2008, on the Straight Dope Message Board, I banned the poster known as “******” for weaseling and strawmanning and then failing to acknowledge the same.

    In a debate concerning the Egalitarian Hypothesis (the hypothesis that natural mental abilities are perfectly evenly distributed among all races and ethnic groups), he claimed that a piece of evidence would have to rule out all “95 gajillion” possible “nurture factors” before it should even be considered evidence against the Egalitarian Hypothesis.

    Later, after I pointed out that by his standard, there is no evidence that smoking causes lung cancer, he conceded that evidence which rules out every possible “nurture factor” might indeed be evidence which undermines the Egalitarian Hypothesis.

    However, he refused to acknowledge that he had changed his position. He also accused me of being evasive when asked about my position on the Egalitarian Hypothesis. However, he was unable to quote any earlier post in which he had asked for my position.

  4. brazil84 Says:

    On October 24, 2008, on the Straight Dope Message Board, I banned the poster known as “**** ***” for weaseling and strawmanning. In a discussion about global warming, **** *** made the claim that the actions/statements of a representative democracy or organization ALWAYS represent either the will of the constituents or are wiser and saner policy (so long as the actions concern something “major”).

    Just so that nobody thinks I am misrepresenting this person, I will quote part of our exchange:


    You now concede that that the statements or policies of an organization do not necessarily reflect the view of a majority of the members, but, as long as (1) the organization is democratic; and (2) the statement or policy concerns something which is not “minor,” you maintain that such a statement or policy is always more accurate and superior compared to the view of the majority of the organization’s members.
    Do I have you right?


    A) “Representative Democracy” and “Democracy” are not interchangeable terms for the purpose of this particular discussion. I’m talking about representative democracy.

    B) You are correct. Representative democracies are set up to at worst represent the view of the majority or at best to represent a more accurate and superior viewpoint. This is their “reason for being” and I personally do believe that they achieve this goal in regards to the major issues. If you think that they fail at this, then that’s fine, but again general surveys of climate scientists agree strongly that the evidence is strong and that global climate change is in majority anthropogenic, so whether scientific bodies do or don’t represent the democratic view of their members is irrelevant. I beleve that scientific bodies do represent it or are in fact superior, and so to me this is very good evidence.

    * * *

    Later, this poster tried to weasel out of his “always” position by sneaking in the phrase “most commonly,” without acknowledging the change. Not only that, but he misrepresented my position as follows:

    brazil84 believes that a representative government (like the United States government) most often acts without any sort of relationship to sane methodology or the will of the people. Most of their actions are mere pork barrels and self-serving legislation.

    Of course, I had made no such claim, expressed or implied When called out, **** *** was unable to substantiate his strawmanning and weaseling and failed to acknowledge the same.


  5. brazil84 Says:

    On November 9, 2008, on the Straight Dope Message Board, I banned the poster known as “******* *******” for strawmanning. In a debate over high speed rail in California, I expressed skepticism that the proposed high speed rail line in California would attract a lot of customers. ******* ******* insisted I had expressed certainty that the rail line would be unsuccesful. I pointed out that I had clearly indicated I was “skeptical,” and asked ******* ******* to back up his or her claim with a quote. Of course he or she could not, and instead made vague references to the “tone and timbre” of my arguments.

  6. brazil84 Says:

    On February 22, 2008, on lesswrong, I banned user wedfirid for consistent incoherency and personal insults.

  7. Doper, Typical Says:

    You are truely a fruitcake, brazilnut.

    [brazil84: Unfortunately, your attitude really is pretty typical of a lot of Dopers: No substantive response to anything; no evidence; no arguments; just name-calling.]

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