Nature of argumentation

DMZ · October 8, 2004 at 12:15 pm · Filed Under Off-topic ranting 

or, why comments are a headache

The U.S.S. Mariner’s been a long discussion between Dave, Jason, me, and our readers. It happened first through email and now continues also in the comments sections. It’s the discussion of a sports team, and baseball in general, but really, it’s been a long and (I think) productive argument about difference facets of the team.

This is going to sound overly simple, but argumentation is about making claims.
“Rich Aurilia for Guillen is, on balance, a slight upgrade.”

Then you advance arguments for this claim.
“… it seems likely that he’ll offer a little more offense than Guillen, while still playing decent defense. The reason I’m worried, though…”

I have enjoyed little more than some of the discussions USSM has had on some of these topics. They often range into the unconsidered and provide a naunced background to the debate.

That’s what I’m interested in. I don’t care if you think I’m smart, or stupid, or if you think we’re tools of the establishment or the forces of enlightenment. Further, I don’t care if you think someone else posting on the site is so dim it makes you want to scream.

I write this because response to some of our stuff has sparked a particular kind of discussion that I’m not interested in. When I post to say “More Gillick-administration figures depart, the remaking of the team’s front office to Bavasi’s specs continues.” That’s a claim, and so:
“That’s not true, some turnover is normal in a front office, especially after a season like this” is an interesting counter-argument.
“Comment #2 is dumb because that person previously argued this other thing” is not.

Here would be my gold standard for comments, and I first admit that I have not, in responding to others, failed to meet it:
Would someone only interested in the claim and counter-claims find this enlightening?


21 Responses to “Nature of argumentation”

  1. IgnatiusReilly on October 8th, 2004 12:20 pm

    Also: read it, memorize it, live by it:

  2. Chris Begley on October 8th, 2004 12:40 pm

    Ahhh that takes me back to good old Philosophy 105 – Introduction to Logic. A course which should be required for anyone hoping to make any sort of argument at any point in their future life.

  3. Paul on October 8th, 2004 12:44 pm

    DMZ, as much as you *want* comments to be a positive, enlightening, sometimes-argumentative thing, the fact is that the more readers you guys get (and you have a heck of a lot, apparently) the worse the overall discussion is going to be.

    This depressing news comes from years of observation online. I’ve been online, posting and discussing stuff, since… well, a long time. Netscape wasn’t Netscape yet; when Mosaic 0.9b came out, that was big news.

    My point (I have one) is that what seems to inevitably happen with online discussion is that there’s a critical mass that is reached, and the quality just flies out the window. The very thing that makes an online forum good draws the elements of its own failure.

    (Hubris, all that. Those Greek tragedies of thouands of years ago are still relevant!)

    The only way, the *only* way, around this at all, is to ruthlessly control your content- including the comments. Of course, what this means is that the gatekeeper for the comments becomes an active part- whatever that person’s likes/dislikes are become part of the comments, because their editing/moderation choices are based on that.

    In sum, give it up. You can try telling people “I’d really like the comments/discussion to be like XXX” but you’re trying to bail the Titanic out with a dixie cup.

    There’s a pretty interesting blurb in an issue (a few months back) of Wired magazine making some of the same points about blogs and how they hit a certain size… worth reading for guys in your situation.


  4. angie arlati on October 8th, 2004 1:28 pm

    Isn’t Boone cute! 🙂

  5. sidereal on October 8th, 2004 1:43 pm

    Paul, I’ve seen the same general trend in most online environments, but I think it’s only partly an issue of size (thought it is definitely partly that. It’s impossible to have an intelligent conversation if there are 30 random comments between every one of your responses).

    I think a bigger issue is barrier to access. Conversation in the early days of the Internet (and in the early days of each new medium that comes out of it) was pretty good because there was a big barrier to entry. It was a pain in the ass to participate, so you only did it if it was worthwhile to you and you cared about the conversation.

    The easier it is to participate, the more asinine drive-by comments you’ll get.

  6. Rob on October 8th, 2004 2:28 pm

    #4 Oh please no, the memeories of the official m’s board. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. I personally love all the comments here, ya sometimes people argue and so forth, however it is better then any other M’s board/comments out there.

  7. kalloc on October 8th, 2004 2:38 pm


    So basically it comes down to “We here at USSM can say whatever we want, just like we always have, but we’d like those of you in the comments category to respectfully stay on topic, never get personal, and have short memories. To wit, we’d prefer it if everything we’ve said in the past is ignored in preference for whatever we are saying now, unless our past comments support our current views in which case we’ll link back to them.” Is that it?

    I’m not sure how that fits into the established culture of the site. Didn’t one of you just slag a BP writer about Ichiro, using words like “stupid” and “asinine”? I thought it was a very well written piece, but it was still a slag piece.

    For better or worse, your site has carried a hostile tone towards M’s management and FO for years now. Hostility sells, but it also invites other hostile folks to drop by. If you’re going to open a comments section with the “understood” ground rules set at “fire away” you’ll get what you ask for.

    The previous comment about reaching blogger critical mass also applies, of course.

    But really, if you didn’t want people to tell you that you’re wrong or that your current POV is not consistent with past views, why enable the comments section in the first place?

    Once you allow people to voice their opinions, you can’t regulate what comes out of their mouths short of censorship or the peer pressure of mutual respect for all.

    Good luck with the second one. Again, the base group is probably too large for that.


  8. Evan on October 8th, 2004 3:19 pm

    As a guy who has a degree in Philosophy, and while studying Philosophy was once derisively referred to as a hyper-rationalist, I would love it if debate here dealt only with points and counter-points.

  9. Kevin on October 8th, 2004 3:59 pm

    Um Kalloc #7, I believe what he was saying is that he hopes the comments stay civil. I don’t believe I have ever seen an author here at USS Mariner say they aren’t accountable for things they have said in the past. In fact I remember a post not to long ago where they examined their own statements, found them to be incorrect, and stated that openly. As far as staying on topic, I’ve seen a couple references to, “we are discussing this on another thread, please post there” say I’m not sure what your beef is with that.

    Yes the words “stupid” and “asinine” were used to describe another writer’s arguments but I believe that other author was complimented with the exception of his blind spot toward Ichiro. Is there a difference in these two statements? “Your statement that BA is the absolute best stat to judge offensive performance is the most idiodic thing I have ever heard.” “WTF are you talking about you F’ing moron. It’s amazing your parents had enough brain cells to breed.” Follow in line with statement one by challenging the arguments and not the person and you will probably be ok in the comments section (Derek/Dave/Jason correct me if I spoke out of place).

  10. DMZ on October 8th, 2004 4:10 pm

    I have nothing to add to Kevin’s comments, which I agree with entirely.

  11. rd on October 8th, 2004 4:57 pm

    I enjoy the enthusiasm for the Mariners that your commentors display. As a group I’m sure they all just want the team to improve, and are trying to get their opinion heard and tested in a public forum.

    However, some of them either need to get an editor or a life. They take up my time (screen space) with self-important pronouncements, some of which might even contain good ideas. Brevity! Please.

  12. djw on October 8th, 2004 5:04 pm

    Well, I have something to add to it. Kalloc, this is their house. They pay for the bandwidth. As such, they can reasonably ask people who add to that expense and contribute to their site to follow certain rules. If you think this is wildly inappropriate, I’d advise setting up a website devoted to off-topic ad hominem attacks on USSM posts.

  13. jemanji on October 8th, 2004 5:45 pm

    What g said — you amigos are provocative enough yourselves, that we’d imagine you’d be quite tolerant of others throwing sharp elbows also — 🙂

    That doesn’t preclude you from trying to maintain order.


    That said, the Bavasi argument was a year-long issue and the time was right IMHO to gain closure on it.

    But since you are interested in claims and counter-claims, we’ll offer a friendly wave g’bye with a very provocative and very objective claim….


  14. jemanji on October 8th, 2004 5:45 pm

    Here’s an interesting way to look at the question of, “how likely was the 2004 Seattle collapse?”

    The parameters can be tweaked here and there, but the general thrust is striking.

    It’s based on asking, “How many Mariners achieved ‘collapse’ seasons (per PECOTA) and how likely was this?


    Baseball Prospectus defines “collapse” like this:

    HITTER – a decrease in EqR/game of 20% or more
    PITCHER – an increase in ERA of 25% or more

    And it gives a different % chance of this for each player.


    Here are the % chances of collapses preasons, with YES/NO postseason, for the 18 core M’s on Opening Day:

    Ichiro – 36% – NO
    Winn – 36% – NO
    Boone – 28% – YES*
    Edgar – 42% – YES*
    Olerud – 19% – YES
    Ibanez – 31% – NO (but injured)
    Aurila – 30% – YES*
    Spiezio – 28% – YES*
    Wilson – 32% – YES (I think)

    Moyer – 12% – YES*
    Jo-El – 13% – YES
    Franklin – 23% – YES*
    Meche – 14% – YES*
    Garcia – 19% – NO

    Guardado – 24% – NO (but catastrophically injured)
    Mateo – 21% – YES
    Soriano – 26% – YES*
    Hasegawa – 32% – YES*

    A stats major could formally calculate the probability of that collection of YES’ses or worse…


    Even that would far understate the phenomenon.

    Because all of the YES* — with a * — indicate a stricter “collapse” definition that puts the player’s chance of collapse at 10% or less –we could recalculate substituting 10% for all the YES*. …that’s arbitrary, but suggestive.

    In addition, a certain % of these players were supposed to have BREAKOUT years — usually about 25%. ….Only Ichiro, and perhaps Winn, had a breakout year.

    So it’s like saying “wow, these dice showed a lot of 1’s” …. but in addition, of those that were not 1’s … a surprisingly low number of the remainder were 5’s and 6’s. …I have no idea how to calculate for that.


    My own math-poor, slipshod, but rather effective way of estimating this probability is to:

    (1) Average all of the % chances of collapse. …Using 10% for the YES*, that comes out to an average 17.8% chance of such a terrible year.

    That’s arbitrary and it wouldn’t path a math final, but it sounds about right, intuitively. Any individual M probably had about a 1 in 6 chance of a disaster year.

    (2) Plug that into a binomial calculator — if a weighted coin had a 17.8% chance of coming up heads, what would be the chance of 13/18 heads?

    The answer to that is p = 0.00000, according to the binomial calculator at

    The norm would be 3-4 heads in 18 trials — 3-4 of the M’s should have had collapse years (and also some of them have breakout years).

    Probability of 8 heads in 18 trials is already below 1%. Probability of 9/18 approaches one in 1,000.

    Probability of 11/18 is one in 20,000 … of 12/18 is 1 in 100,000 … and 13/18 is off the scale but would be about 1 in 600,000.

    As you know, PECOTA already factors in the ages of the Mariners. Edgar, e.g., was at a sky-high 42% chance of collapse. …. The 2004 Mariners surpassed age-normal declines by this amount.


    Meaning one of two things:

    (1) PECOTA is messed up. (Its estimates on pitchers are indeed surprisingly low.)

    (2) There is a non-random cause behind the collection of collapse years.


    Anyway, the approach seems interesting, and it’s very suggestive that these guys didn’t just “happen” to all have terrible years together.


  15. Laurie on October 8th, 2004 5:47 pm

    Hey, at least most of commentators on this site can spell and put together reasonably coherent sentences most of the time. Count your blessings.

  16. jemanji on October 8th, 2004 5:48 pm

    EXEC SUM —

    If the 2004 Mariners had been Strat-O-Matic cards … the 2004 collection of terrible years was MATHEMATICALLY IMPOSSIBLE.

    There was therefore a non-random CAUSE to the fact that they all laid down and died.

    I assert that they were infected with the front office disease of believing themselves to be the background scenery to the World Series wars. They lost hope and they threw in the towel.

    The cause could be something else. But there certainly was a cause.


    Anyway, we wanted to get out of your hair 🙂 and thought you might find the above mini-study an interesting bone to chew on.

    Rock on,

  17. jemanji on October 8th, 2004 5:49 pm

    And once again — there are any number of parameters that could be challenged, in that mini-study.

    That’s fine — but let’s keep in sight the big picture. …. The 2004 M’s roster had a FANTASTICALLY IMPROBABLE collection of disaster seasons.


  18. eponymous coward on October 8th, 2004 6:53 pm

    I agree with the “improbable collection” part…just not the supposed cause.

    It’s something that will help the team bounce back, IMO- but there’s a lot to bounce back to…

  19. tyler on October 9th, 2004 10:57 am

    i’m an english teacher and coach… i’ll be honest.. all your numbers crunching hurts my eyes.

    *OUCH!* No More! No more!!!!

  20. rd on October 9th, 2004 7:28 pm

    I agree. Baseball is a game that can be analyzed w/ statistics, not a statiscal game.

  21. Jerry on October 10th, 2004 8:06 am

    Back to the point,

    I think that the content on this blog is quite good. Most of the people who post here are pretty civil. I have had some prolonged debates with people here, without it getting nasty. I also post on the Seattle PI blog, and that forum tends to get into juvenile name-calling quite often. All in all, I am very impressed with the quality of the posts on this site. Even the people who I disagree with strongly still construct good arguments for their opinions. And the knowledge level of most people on this blog is high.

    The one thing that might help is to put in word or line limits on the comments. As someone who tends to ramble a lot in my posts, I think that a word limit would help keep people on topic. Really, most of the huge posts I see here (including many of my own) could be presented concisely if people had to conform to a limit. A word-limit would help minimize the length of the posts and would help keep people from rambling.